Exploring Little Italy (Cleveland) and Ohio’s Amish Country

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Meeting with Rick Porrello

Two very different worlds collide in  The Silent Order—the Cleveland Mafia and the Amish community in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Set in 1929, this historical suspense is about a Cleveland detective named Rollin Wells who is close to exposing a notorious Mafia family. And it’s about an Amish woman named Katie Lehman who is hiding a terrible secret.

To research this novel, I flew to Cleveland in March (2010) and toured Little Italy. I ate way too much pepperoni bread and explored brick streets that were rife with Mafia activity during Prohibition. Above Little Italy is an eerie cemetery with hills and spires and spooky mausoleums. Driving between the barren trees and tombstones, I could envision my detective hidden there, spying on a secret meeting between gangsters. That experience became Chapter #1 in the book.

At a nearby coffee shop, I met with local police chief Rick Porrello to talk about gangster life in Cleveland, eighty years ago. Seven of Rick’s ancestors were Mob leaders, and he is the author of The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia. His research and input helped shape every Mafia scene in The Silent Order.

From Cleveland, I drove south to Sugarcreek and seemed to step back in time as I immersed myself in Amish country. Snow glazed the hills and farmhouses around the village, and the countryside was so peaceful. The perfect place for the Cleveland Mafia to hide.

The next morning, an Amish woman guided me around the hills and farms as she told me about her childhood in Sugarcreek and what is important to the Amish community (family!). Then I left behind overhead wires and cell phone coverage that evening to spend the night in a farmhouse with an Old Order Amish couple.

Without electricity, I expected quiet hours of conversation and rest at the farmhouse, but the wood furnace thumped constantly beside my bed and throughout the night the various clocks around the house chimed and entertained us with classical music. Our conversation was often interrupted by the music and groans from the furnace, but I had a delightful time with my hosts (read more about my evening with my Amish hosts on Cindy Woodsmall’s blog here).

I discovered that Amish people do indeed read and enjoy Amish fiction, even if (my host’s words) the facts aren’t always correct. I’m sure my facts won’t all be correct either, but I sure enjoyed my trip, trying to get my facts as straight as possible before I launched into my story.

Here are a few pictures of my trip, including a picture with my friend and editor Connie Troyer who lives in Sugarcreek.