And that goes a long way toward explaining why every book featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder has been powerful, tautly plotted, and written so well that it can haunt a person for weeks, even months, after reading. I gasped at the end of BREAKING SILENCE and finally managed to croak to my husband Dave, "Get them all. All of the books in this series. We need them."
Kate Burkholder grew up in Amish country and survived -- barely -- an attack on her family by a serial killer. With her survival came a personal departure from the Amish, and from their countryside. Twenty years later, she's back in the region she still cares about, working with people whose way of life can appear fiercely obstinate, backward, even cruel. She's no longer part of the community's most fervent segment. But she's passionate about standing up for them, especially when crime -- or the hierarchies of policing -- take aim against them.
Castillo offers a pair of chapters from the view of other characters before reaching, in her third chapter, Kate herself, being woken by a phone call from the dispatcher. That is, if you can call it woken when chronic insomnia has set in. Kate was just wondering how long she'd make it before repercussions from long-term sleeplessness would strike her like an ax. And then -- well, there's no good news at five in the morning. Three people are down in a manure pit, floating in the animal waste and in danger of rapid death from the fumes. All emergency services are needed, and Kate's on her way.
Alarm rattles through me. Born and raised Amish, I'm well aware of the dangers of a poorly managed manure pit. Methane gas. Ammonia. Drowning. The Slabaughs are Amish and run a hog operation just out of town. I can tell by the smell when I drive by their place that they don't utilize good manure management. "You call EMS?"
"They're on their way. So is Pickles."
"Victims still alive?"
"Far as I know."But after a heartbreakingly difficult rescue operation, watched by the victims' children, there are no survivors after all. And slowly, Kate comes to realize that the deaths -- or what led up to them -- may have been part of a string of vicious hate crimes in the area, aimed at the Amish in general.
Or could there be other motives for intentional death?
Castillo writes with double strengths that I think add up to a truly good crime novel: a plot that hinges on real social or cultural or "greed" issues in a community, and a protagonist whose personal pain, shame, anger, or confusion gets braided into the pursuit of the criminals. When investigator John Tomasetti from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation gets assigned to Kate's case, the lingering dishonesties between Kate and her much-liked colleague blaze into potential destruction of one of the best parts of her life. Plus, there are hints that she could lose her job over this case -- maybe even her life.
For an intriguing interview with Castillo, done just after she'd handed in the manuscript for this page-turner, check this BookReporter website. Castillo's author site is good but doesn't reveal a lot; instead, here's a recent blog post of hers from The Lipstick Chronicles that makes good reading, especially for authors and other self-driven creative people.
I look forward to more of this gripping and well-crafted series.