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FALLEN by Linda Castillo: Book Review

In the stereotyped version of the Amish world, all is peaceful and harmonious.  After all, its members live their lives mostly with other members of their faith, eschewing things that might bring danger or temptation to them–alcohol, drugs, cars–and believe in a doctrine of humility, community, fairness, and separation from the world and its unseemly urges.

But in Painters Mill, Ohio, a town with a considerable Amish presence, there are always problems under the smooth surface.  In Fallen, Linda Castillo’s latest novel, things thought long buried are brought to the surface when Rachel  Schwartz returns there after a decade-long absence.

It came as no surprise that Rachel had left her hometown without a word to her parents or friends.  She was too lively, too daring, too dismissive of the strict rules that were meant to keep young Amish girls in their “proper place.”   She rode horses, smoked and drank alcohol, wore dresses that were inappropriately short, questioned the authority of the church, and finally was placed under a bann by the bishop in hopes that it would control her behavior.  But it didn’t.

As Fallen opens, Rachel returns to Painters Mill to “rectify the one wrong that still kept her up nights.”  She checks into the Willowdell Motel and is awakened in the middle of the night by a knock on the door.  She’s glad to see her visitor, moves to turn on the light by the bedside, and is struck down by the first of a number of blows that render her helpless.  And then dead.

Kate Burkholder, the town’s chief of police, visits Rachel’s parents to tell them the heart-breaking news.  The Schwartzes didn’t know that their daughter was in town and know virtually nothing about her life since she’s left their home.

They think that Rachel’s only contact with Painters Mill, aside from her yearly visit to them, is her best friend Loretta Bontrager, although the two girls could not have been more different.  Loretta was shy while Rachel was outgoing, obedient while Rachel was reckless, and happy with her life in their hometown while Rachel left for the city and never returned except for brief Christmas visits.  But the bond between them remained strong.

One of the many ways Rachel had alienated her hometown was by publishing “AMISH NIGHTMARE:  How I Escaped the Clutches of Righteousness.”  It’s not difficult to imagine that the Painters Mills community wasn’t happy to read the author’s scathing memoir of her life there, although the publisher had Rachel note at the book’s beginning that the names of the people mentioned had been changed to protect their identities.  Nevertheless, it was easy to figure out who the characters really were, many of whom were described with malice and animosity and with enough description to make their identities obvious.

Kate has to decide whether the seeds for the murder lay in Rachel’s life in Painters Mills or in her recent life in Cleveland, where she continued her rather contentious life with her business partner and a former lover.  And then Kate’s realization of the motive for the murder and its perpetrator puts her in the path of the killer who will do anything, including a second murder, to protect a secret.

Linda Castillo’s Kate Buckholder series is one that never disappoints, with its sharply drawn characters and sense of place.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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