Part of the attraction I feel toward Linda Castillo's books is the same a man might feel toward a woman he encounters on a regular basis. I live in proximity to rural Holmes County, Ohio, where Castillo's novels of quiet and stark danger are set, and often mark the presence of Amish buggies traversing overpasses, an everyday anachronism noted and then gone. Her plots slice in and out of the lives of Amish society, diving past the superficial familiarity that most people have (if they have any at all) into the complexity of a society that strives to quietly remain apart from "the English." The result is a cultural study shot through with a dark and riveting mystery, one that is deliberately paced yet demands to be read in one sitting.
If you like the work of Tana French --- and yes, you should --- Castillo is every bit as good, and much closer to home.
Kate Burkholder, police chief of the fictional community of Painter's Mill, is the somewhat uneasy lynchpin between the Amish community and the secular town government. Burkholder was raised Amish but not baptized into it; accordingly, she's familiar, even at times sympathetic, with the community. The crimes that touch the Amish in her jurisdiction are of interest to her, so that a recent string of so-called "hate crimes" against the Amish in and around Painter's Mill are of very special concern.
When three members of the Slabaughs, a local Amish family, are found dead as a result of methane gas asphyxiation, the incident appears to be a terrible accident that points out the dangers of rural farming methods that adhere to the old ways. An autopsy, however, leads to the conclusion that the deaths were in fact due to foul play. As the rate of random crimes against the Amish escalates, the state government sends John Tomasetti to Painter's Mill to investigate.
Tomasetti, a state police agent (and Burkholder's lover) brings the right mix of observation and toughness into the investigation, which is frustrating because of the reluctance --- refusal, actually --- of the victims to cooperate, given their cultural mandate to remain above and apart from society in general. In the course of solving and stopping the attacks, Burkholder and Tomasetti make a number of unexpected and shocking discoveries that turn their murder investigation upside down and force Burkholder to recall aspects of her own life in the Amish community that she would rather forget.
BREAKING SILENCE would be worth reading for the mystery alone, but there is much more here. Castillo's ability to present the Amish society sympathetically and objectively keeps the narrative flowing. Additionally, the backdrop description of northeast Ohio in early winter is dead-on perfect. It's almost impossible to describe to an outsider how rain can come down in sheets while the temperature hovers just above freezing, other than to say that whoever coined the diagnosis of "seasonal affective disorder" must have lived in Doylestown at one time or another. Castillo gets this, so that the weather, as well as its effect upon the terrain, plays a subtle yet important part in her story. If you like the work of Tana French --- and yes, you should --- Castillo is every bit as good, and much closer to home.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 4, 2011