Writer Dale Cramer's latest novel The Captive Heart is the second in a trilogy of books that falls under the collective title of The Daughters of Caleb Bender. It continues the story of a group of Amish people who left their homes and farms in the United States in hopes of finding freedom from what they deemed to be religious persecution. They settled in Mexico which presented them with a life of freedom but also of hardship.
The story takes place in the early 1900s and describes how Caleb Bender and his family, along with some of their friends from Ohio, set down roots in Mexico. The land is rich and the crops are abundant but there is nervousness in the air due to the bandits that are always capable of inflicting harm. This is doubly difficult for the Amish group as they will not fight to defend themselves. They trust in God to protect them.
Caleb does have a secret weapon and that is his ranch hand Domingo. Domingo is very much involved with Bender and his family and has none of the restrictions of their religion in dealing with the bandits. Domingo has another reason for his loyalty to the Benders; he is in love with Caleb's daughter Miriam.
The love story between Domingo and Miriam is the heart of The Captive Heart. Theirs seems to be an impossible love story as she is devoted to her family and her faith. Domingo is an outsider and could never understand the depth of her feelings for God. Still the attraction is there and circumstances could occur which would change Miriam's mind.
As a subplot there is the relationship between Rachel, Miriam's younger sister, and Jake. They are both Amish so there are no faith impediments to their relationship. There are, however, intervening factors. Rachel is kidnapped by bandits and Jake is desperate to rescue her. He is torn between his pacifist beliefs and his desire to save the woman he loves.
All of the conflicts of the heart, and the battles of the flesh and of faith are portrayed with depth and detail in Cramer's book. He brings his characters to vivid life and paints a believable picture of the Amish ways. The story of Caleb Bender and his family is drawn from Cramer's own ancestors' exodus to Mexico. These are his people and he knows how they are affected by their religion.
The Captive Heart is not a good title for a book of so much depth. It cheapens the expectations of the story and makes it appear to be a very simplistic book. That it is not. There are many complex issues in this book and Cramer studies and explores them with a depth of understanding.
Cramer is a writer of great insight into the souls of the people he creates in the pages of his books. He is masterful in setting up tense situations and following them through until the very end, always keeping them logical and enjoyable. He also knows how to grab the readers' attention from the very first pages till the very last ones. Do not start a story like THE CAPTIVE HEART unless you have a few hours to spend on its enjoyable plot.
The last book in this series is titled Though Mountains Fall and it will be released in December 2012. The Captive Heart sets a high standard for it to follow, but then a Dale Cramer book always does.
"The Captive Heart" is published by Bethany House. It contains 348 pages and sells for $14.99.
Jackie K. Cooper