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Book Author: Linda Castillo

AN EVIL HEART by Linda Castillo: Book Review

Returning to Ohio’s Amish Country is always a pleasure because it means spending time with Kate Burkholder, the Painters Mills Chief of Police.   Just days away from her wedding to John Thomasetti, himself a police detective for the state, Kate is called to investigate a particularly brutal death.

Aden Karn, a young Amish man, is riding his bicycle on his way to work, admiring the beauty of the countryside, when he’s struck by a bolt from a crossbow.  It has gone completely through him, sticking out of his back.  Then the killer stands over him, a second bolt is placed in his mouth, and his life is over.

When Kate goes to Karn’s parents and his girlfriend Emily to give them the sad news, they are unbelieving.  According to them and to Emily’s mother as well, Aden was funny, charming, never argued with anyone.  So why was he killed, and in such a barbaric way?

As the investigation progresses, however, certain things seem to point to another side of Aden.  He and his housemate, Wayne Graber, sold a reconditioned truck to one of the local toughs.  When the truck stopped working, Vernon Fisher demanded his down payment back, but Aden refused to return it.  Vernon, in turn, refused to pay the remainder of the price for the non-working truck, so Aden and Wayne went to Vernon’s house in the middle of the night and repossessed it.  Not unexpectedly, feelings ran high between the two men, but Vernon denies owning a crossbow or having any involvement in the death.

In addition, Kate is hearing disquieting stories about Aden and young women in the area. The Amish lead a restricted life until their mid or late teens, at which point many take advantage of rumspringa, literally “running around.”  During rumspringa they can drink, smoke, drive cars, use electricity, even have sexual relations, all of which are forbidden to the adults in the community.  It is hoped that after being a part of the non-Amish world for a period of time, the young people will realize the importance of the Amish way of life and return to it, and approximately ninety percent do.  But, of course, that leaves another ten percent who decide they prefer the alternative way.

Is this what caused Aden Karn’s death?  Did he become too fond of all the “English” things that are normally banned by the Amish?  The more deeply Kate looks into his life during his period of rumspringa, the more possible motives she discovers.

Linda Castillo has written another excellent novel in the Kate Burkholder series.  The novel’s plot is believable, Kate and John are wonderful characters, and the Amish and “English” communities both come alive in An Evil Heart.  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.


THE HIDDEN ONE by Linda Castillo: Book Review

A number of years ago I taught a course I called “Murder in Ethnic Communities” at BOLLI (the Brandeis University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).  One of the books we read was Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo, the eighth book in the series featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder of Painters Mill, Ohio.  My students were fascinated by the small town setting, by the lifestyle of the Amish residents, and by Kate’s backstory.

In The Hidden One Kate is visited by three members of the Amish clergy from the Kish Valley in Pennsylvania.  A member of their community, Jonas Bowman, has been arrested for the murder of a man who disappeared eighteen years earlier, and they believe he is innocent.  Now the remains of Bishop Ananias Stoltzfus have been found, along with the murder weapon that belongs to Bowman.  The men have come to ask Kate to investigate the case because Jonas lived in Painters Mill until he was eighteen.

Kate is not certain that the Amish elders are aware of the history that she and Jonas share.  She’s reluctant to go to Pennsylvania, a bit afraid of what she might find.  Although she’s certain that the Jonas Bowman she knew could not be guilty of murder, she hasn’t seen him in more than twenty years, and she knows how much a person can change in that time.  Still, she feels committed to finding out what happened since it’s because of her that Jonas’ family moved to Pennsylvania.

When Kate visits Jonas in jail, he tells her that God has a plan and that the “one thing that I know for certain is that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”  She understands that he believes this Amish teaching, but as someone who left the Amish community two decades earlier, this is not something that resonates with her.  After their conversation, Kate is convinced of Jonas’ innocence, and she is determined to investigate.

Jonas gives Kate the background information regarding his relationship with Stoltzfus.  Although the bishop was thought by most members of the community to be strict but fair, Jonas saw another side of him, a mean, more vengeful side.  Stoltzfus had put Jonas’ father, a minister in the church, under a bann, which meant that no one in the community could do business with him, speak to him, or share a meal with him.  Shortly after the bann went  into effect, Jonas’ father died, whether from a heart attack or stress no one knew.

Jonas admits that after his father’s death he lost his temper in church with the bishop one day, shouted at him, and wrecked his buggy.  Two weeks after that Stoltzfus disappeared.

In Kate Burkholder, Linda Castillo has created a wonderful character.  Kate’s integrity and bravery are evident, and her strong relationship with her lover John Tomaselli, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Investigation, continues to deepen with every book.  In The Hidden One she is without Tomaselli or the support of the Painters Mill police department, but she remains determined to discover the truth about Stoltzfus’ death.

You can read more about Linda Castillo 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.

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.

A GATHERING OF SECRETS by Linda Castillo: Book Review

We all know that secrets have a way of being discovered despite everything that’s done to cover them up.  But what happens when a teenage girl confides her secret to her mother and is disbelieved and shamed?  There can be no happy ending to that story.

A Gathering of Secrets opens with a harrowing episode.  A seventeen-year-old Amish girl feigns illness to avoid going to Sunday worship with her family.  Believing that God has spoken to her, she waits until her parents and siblings have left their farm, then goes into the family’s barn and hangs herself.

Six months later Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkholder receives a phone call about a fire raging out of control.  The firefighters are already at the farm belonging to the Gingerichs, an Amish family, and when Kate arrives she is told that the family cannot locate their teenage son Danny.  Later that day, after the fire has been controlled, firemen find a body in the barn, but it is so badly burned that at first no one can be certain who it is.   However, several hours later it is identified as Danny.

As is true of many ethnic/religious groups, the Amish in Painters Mill would prefer to handle matters without outside interference.  But after the arson inspector tells Kate that there’s no way Danny could have locked and barricaded himself in the barn’s tack room either before or after the fire started, what initially seemed like a horrific accident becomes a murder investigation, and Kate must try to get answers to her questions from the reluctant members of this religious community.  And what she discovers is that Danny was not the ideal Amish teenager that his parents believed him to be.

This is the tenth novel in the Kate Burkholder series, and in each one the reader learns more about her.  Born into an Amish family, Kate is now “English,” as the Amish call anyone who doesn’t follow the Ordnung, the oral tradition of rules and expectations that govern their lives.  Still, it is Kate’s familiarity with the religion and her knowledge of the families who live in her community that help her solve crimes.

This crime, in particular, hits very close to home, as its investigation makes Kate relive the most painful episode in her life.  Is she too close to the crimes leading back to Danny to do her job with the objectivity she needs?  Or does her own history make her even more determined to find out the reason for the young man’s death?

Linda Castillo has written another engrossing mystery that brings her readers into the community of Painters Mills.  Kate and her significant other, John Tomasetti of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, are moving steadily toward a wedding date despite the past events in their lives that continue to haunt them.  And Kate’s staff, most particularly the ever-eager Mona Kurtz, are wonderfully depicted.  A Gathering of Secrets is a thrilling addition to this series.

You can read more about Linda Castillo 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 Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE DEAD WILL TELL by Linda Castillo: Book Review

The chief of police in Painters Mills, Ohio holds what seems to be dual citizenship.  Kate Burkholder was born into the town’s Amish community but left it to become, as they say in Pennsylvania Dutch, an Englischer.  That term, used both for men and women, simply denotes anyone who doesn’t follow the Amish way.  But Kate, having grown up as Amish, both speaks their language and understands their way of life better than most Englischers can.

Thirty-five years ago, there was a horrific murder in the town.  Kate was just a child then, but she knows the tragic story of the Hochstetlers.  Four masked people broke into the family’s farmhouse looking for money from the family’s business; it was believed that the family kept their cash in the house because of the Amish distrust of banks.  The intruders killed the family’s father and abducted the mother, and a lighted lantern left on the basement steps burned the four younger children to death.  Only the teenage son Billy, who was running after the getaway car carrying his mother, escaped with his life.

Now, all these years later, four respected members of Painters Mills have been receiving threatening notes.  Dale Michaels is the first to die, having received these messages:  I know what you did; I know what all of you did; Meet me or I go to the police; Hochstetler farm. 1 a.m.  Come alone.  When Dale arrives at the farm at the appointed hour, he sees the figure of Wanetta Hochstetler, the family’s mother who was abducted and assumed dead for thirty-five years.  And then Dale is shot to death.

Kate Burkholder didn’t know Dale Michaels, nor did she expect three people to be murdered within a week in her town.  What could tie these victims together?  And why had each victim received notes similar to Dale’s?

Kate is undergoing her own personal trial with her live-in partner, John Tomasetti.  His wife and two daughters were killed three years earlier as retribution for arrests he made as an FBI agent, and now one of the convicted men has been released on a technicality.  John can’t put this tragedy behind him, and his desire for revenge is threatening the relationship he has with Kate.

Linda Castillo continues the exciting Kate Burkholder series with this latest entry.  Reading about the Amish community in  Painters Mills is, for most of us, like taking a trip to a foreign country.  There are many things that set the members of the group apart from the majority–living without electricity, modest dress, traveling in buggies, ending education at the close of the eighth grade.  But readers can easily relate to their emotions and love of family.  As the late author Maya Angelou put it, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”  Ms. Castillo proves this once again in the outstanding The Dead Will Tell.

You can read more about Linda Costello at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.








GONE MISSING by Linda Castillo: Book Review

Many people, myself included, think of the Amish as a people far removed from life as we know it today.  They don’t use electricity, ride in motorized vehicles, play popular music, or continue their education past the eighth grade.  But, however much they don’t want an un-Amish way of life, they cannot protect themselves from the outside world completely.  Amish or not, human nature is human nature.

Gone Missing is the fourth novel in the Kate Burkholder series.  Kate is the chief of police of Painters Mills, a small Ohio community that includes a number of Amish families as well as the “Englischers,” which is what the Amish call all those who are non-Amish.  The Amish try to avoid outsiders as much as possible, particularly those in the police and the legal system, in order to keep to their own way of life.  So it’s a bit surprising to Kate when she gets a call from John Tomasetti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, asking for her help with the case of a missing teenager.  Kate says that missing persons cases are not her area of expertise, but John responds, “It is when they’re Amish.”  Born Amish and fluent in the Pennsylvania Dutch tongue that the community speaks, Kate is the go-to person when followers of that religion are involved.

It turns out that there are four teenage Amish girls who are missing, not just one.  Each has gone outside the strict confines of the church–dating non-Amish boys, dressing in non-Amish ways, listening to non-church music.  Each has had problems with her family, but all the parents stress that their daughters are good girls who would never willingly leave home.  So where could they be?

Kate Buckholder understands only too well the temptations these girls face.  She, too, was a wild child who left home at eighteen to become a policewoman, alienating her from her parents and siblings.  But now it is Kate’s sister Sarah who asks for her help, because one of the missing girls, Sadie Miller, is Sarah’s niece.

Several local men are persons of interest, as the police say.  Justin Treece, a teenage boy, is the Englischer boyfriend of one of the girls; he recently spent time in juvenile detention for assaulting his mother.  Stacy Karns is a prize-winning photographer; his most famous photos are of teenage Amish girls who were unknowingly photographed in various stages of undress.  And there’s Gideon Stolzfus, formerly Amish and now the pastor of his own church, who runs a kind of Underground Railroad to help unhappy teenagers leave the Amish way.

Linda Castillo paints a moving, sympathetic portrait of a tight-knit community that wants only to be left alone to keep its ways without the Englischers intruding.  But have the temptations of that world been too much for the teenagers?  Have they been led into danger, perhaps fatally?

Gone Missing is an intriguing portrait of Ohio’s Amish and English communities, living side by side in an uneasy peace.  Linda Castillo brings the various characters, sympathetic and not, to life in a way every reader will recognize, regardless of their own ethnicity.

You can read more about Linda Castillo at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.