Review

Sworn to Silence

by Linda Castillo

“A gun-toting, cursing former Amish female chief of
police.”

That quote belongs to John Tomasetti, one of the characters in
Linda Castillo’s debut thriller. It refers to Kate
Burkholder, the 30-year-old chief of police in Painters Mill, Ohio,
a fictional rural municipality set in real-life Holmes County.
Castillo is a much-revered author of romance novels; with SWORN TO
SILENCE, she demonstrates an ability to cross genre lines with
astounding ease.

Burkholder is an eight-year veteran of the Columbus, OH police
force who returned to her native Painters Mill to accept the job as
police chief. She knows the town and most of its residents, given
that she was raised in the Amish community there. Though under the
Amish tough-love proscription of the bann due to her
leaving Amish life, she still has her foot in the worlds of both
the Amish and the English (those outside of the Amish world). Her
job in Painters Mill for most of two years has consisted primarily
of arresting drunk drivers and citing farmers for letting their
cows roam onto the rural roads that crisscross the town proper.

All of that changes abruptly, however, when the horribly
mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in a field. The
method of the murder awakens dormant memories in a number of the
townspeople, no more so than Burkholder. A similar series of crimes
had occurred in the community 16 years before, when four young
ladies were murdered. The killings abruptly stopped; now, it
appears, the killer is back. Burkholder, however, is almost certain
that it cannot be the same person, due to a secret that she and two
others have kept since she was 14 years old. If the same killer has
returned, then everything she knows is wrong; yet if the past
murders are reopened, she risks not only her own career, but also
the lives of those who have kept her secret. Burkholder is hesitant
to call in assistance from other law enforcement agencies, as she
does not want other investigators uncovering what has gone before.
Yet the investigation required into the new murder is clearly
beyond the resources of her department.

When another young woman is killed, the city council brings in
John Tomasetti, an investigator for the state BCI. Tomasetti is
badly bent, if not totally broken, an alcoholic with a short fuse
and a penchant for following his own rules. Burkholder, for her
part, remains damaged from events that occurred before; when the
two meet, their working relationship is not made in heaven. They do
gradually acquire a mutual if uneasy respect, as well as a slowly
developing attraction that both fear and neither entirely welcomes.
The killer, though, is still out there, and his violence is
escalating. When a third victim is discovered, Burkholder is
summarily fired, but she stays on the case on her own time,
continuing her investigation while seeking the identity of the real
killer and thus putting herself up as the field’s next
victim.

Linda Castillo is a resident of Texas, a world away from what is
known as Holmes County Amish country. Yet her description of Amish
life, as well as the tolerant if occasionally prickly mix between
the Amish and English, is as spot-on as if she had lived there all
of her life. What makes SWORN TO SILENCE a one-sit read, however,
is her ability to engage in subtle contrast, to describe the quiet
and tranquil surface of life in the rural county with the
undercurrent of violence that dramatically reveals itself without
warning. Castillo’s descriptions of what was done to the
unfortunate victims is unflinching --- there is one scene where my
stomach went upside down, and I have been reading descriptions of
graphic violence for decades --- but her ability to describe a
romantic interlude with all of the details we know and love
certainly doesn’t suffer from her foray into a different
genre.

Burkholder is an impressive, believable and, yes, vulnerable
heroine, and Castillo is an immensely readable recorder of her
fictional exploits. I can’t wait to see more of both of
them.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Sworn to Silence
by Linda Castillo

  • Publication Date: June 23, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1615231072
  • ISBN-13: 9780312374976