Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

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Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Page-turning crime drama in the Amish backwaters of Ohio, well-structured and believable.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230736405

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Called out yet again in the freezing cold of an Ohio winter night to deal with stray cows in the road, Officer T.J. Banks, newcomer to the Painters Mill police department, is not a happy man.

His night, however, is going to get a whole lot worse. From the hole in the wire fence when the cattle escaped, a trail of blood leads him across the snow to an unknown woman, naked as the day she came into this world, and deader than Elvis. With the understatement of the year, Banks tells dispatch that this was no accident…I think we got us a murder.

Painters Mill isn't the kind of place where murders generally happen. A small white-picket-fence kind of a town, where Main Street houses a dozen businesses, half of which are tourist shops cashing in on the modern world's fascination with the Amish way of life.

But it had happened before. Sixteen years ago, there was a series of brutal murders – where each of the victims had been marked with a number, carved in roman numerals into her flesh. Then abruptly, the murders had stopped. Peace had returned and the residents of Painters Mill and the farms round about, both Amish and English, went back to their everyday worlds.

Back then, Kate Burkholder had been fourteen years old and securely on the Amish side of the white picket fences. The killings and their aftermath convinced her she wanted a different kind of a life. So a little while later, placed under the Bann by her community, she left.

Now she's back and is the local Chief of Police. She takes the call from Banks, and heads out to the scene, but it is only when the medical examiner arrives, the full check of the body begins and the numerals are found that Kate is thrown back into her childhood. The nightmare she has suffered ever since that time now lies at her feet.

The Painters Mill PD consists of a grand total of 7 staff – including the Chief, two dispatchers and one auxiliary. Three full time officers is Kate Burkholder's resource in the face of this horrific event, but she determines not to call in the Sheriff's department or the FBI to help because, of all people, Kate knows this cannot possibly be happening.

Don't be fooled by Castillo's quaint setting: Sworn to Silence is no Miss Marple village mystery. The killings continue (and have continued) and are increasingly violent, vicious and brutal. No punches are pulled in the telling of the tortures, but your imagination will add yet more. As the townspeople fear for their safety, Kate cannot be allowed to handle this her way and slowly she loses control of the case to outsiders… people who do not understand the Amish the way that she does, people who do not know Painters Mill, people who cannot possible know what happened sixteen years ago. She hopes.

One of those outsiders is a man called John Tomasetti – a sidelined cop, who may be about to find himself sidelined out of employment altogether if he can't get his life back on track. This is by way of a last-chance deployment for him. He may feel that he has nothing to prove – to anyone! – but part of him is still, still wants to be, a cop.

One is from closer to home. And so far more dangerous when it comes to protecting the silence.

Sworn to Silence is a taut thriller. Everyone it seems has something to hide, and something to prove, and the sworn silence hangs heavy as a noose around the necks of those trying to unravel the clues and stop the case unravelling itself.

Full of internal conflicts, small town jealousies and inter-agency rivalries, the wider differences between the Amish and the English play a secondary role in threatening to derail the investigation.

The setting is perfectly evoked, with the Amish community being accorded the respect that only a vivid insight can bring. They are not ciphers, but real people, a real community with a cross section of belief and adherence and prejudice.

If it were a film, the epithet beautifully shot would be invoked. Much of the action takes place during the long winter dusks and nights, backlit by snow. Without any recourse to lyricism, Castillo captures her place perfectly in all its austere beauty and downright cussed coldness.

Her characters are real and flawed, their emotions finely judged.

With the exception of the one predictable cliché, the plot hammers forward with enough possible outcomes to make you certain and uncertain by turns. The only other thing to say about it, is that it has the most effective use of a prologue I have come across in a very long time.


For more murder in small town America check out Angels Fall by Nora Roberts.

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Buy Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo at Amazon.com.


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Karen said:

Thank you for this review. I agree with your assessment. Excellent work

I am writing from Virginia and our Ladies of Mystery book will discuss this tomorrow.

Regards KAREN