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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.


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.