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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Amish Thriller Grisly, But Gripping

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Kate Burkholder knows violent crime.  At 14, she was kidnapped and tortured by a vicious serial killer.  Now 30, she's a policewoman with eight years of experience under her belt.  For the last two, she's been chief of police in her hometown of Painters Mill, Ohio.  Residents of the small town, 1/3 of whom are Amish, generally get along peacefully.  When they don't, Kate, who grew up Amish but is currently under the bann for leaving the faith, is uniquely qualified to intervene.  Which doesn't make her job easy or pleasant or always gratifying.

When a young woman is murdered, her body marked in a way that is intimately familiar to Kate, the chief of police is understandably shaken.  The handiwork appears to be that of the man who imprisoned her so many years ago.  Kate knows it's not, but she can't explain why without dredging up secrets that could ruin both her and her family.  As the bodies pile up, she's racked with guilt and tormented by the traumas of the past, but more determined than ever to stop the cold-blooded murderer.  "Help" comes in the form of a disgraced field agent from the Ohio Bureau for Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) named John Thomasetti.  He, of course, comes with his own complications.  Her new partner's various neuroses are the last thing Kate needs to be dealing with right now.  If she doesn't keep her head in the game, she could be the killer's next victim.

Police procedural novels are a dime a dozen.  It takes something different, something unique, to make one stand out above the others.  Linda Castillo mined her Ohio childhood to find that something.  Sworn to Silence, the first installment in her Kate Burkholder series, is one of only a few books I've encountered that could be labeled an Amish thriller.  While that may sound like an oxymoron (the Amish are, after all, a notoriously peace-loving people), it's the intimate, unflinching look inside their culture that makes this novel so compelling.  Because of Castillo's careful shaping, Painters Mill feels real; the quiet tension between its Amish and "English" inhabitants smacks of authenticity.  As for the story itself, I have to warn you—it's grisly.  Gripping, but gruesome.  And unsettling.  Definitely not for the faint of heart (or stomach).  While I loved the Amish aspect of this novel, which is an undeniably compelling page turner, it ended up being too disturbing for me.  Therefore, I won't continue with the series, as engrossing and well-written as it may be.  If you're looking for a new police chief to follow (and you're made of stronger stuff than I am), give this series a try.  Just know that it's not an easy one to read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult, as well as Laura Bickle's Amish/ zombie apocalypse books [The Hallowed Ones; The Outside].  Of course, other books in the Kate Burkholder series will also be similar.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence/gore, sexual content and depictions of illegal and prescription drug abuse

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Hmmm...well, I was a little afraid this might be too grim for you, Susan. It's a favorite series of mine, but I know that it's not for every reader. You wrote a very nice review of this first book. Kate is such a unique character and her ability to live in the 'English' world, but still understand the 'Amish' one is a big plus, in my opinion. :-)

    1. Yeah, it just got to be too much for my delicate sensibilities :) It's a bummer, though, because I really like Kate, the setting, and the whole Amish/English thing. It's unique and very compelling. Just way too graphic for me. LMK if you come across any series that are similar in setting/writing, but with less gore. I know you're the mystery novel expert!

  2. Hmmm, I'm not sure the grisly stuff would bother me but I'm still not sure this one's for me.

  3. In principle, this sounds like a book I would love, but I can't handle grisly. at all. Great review.


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