I will admit straight up that Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series is one of my favorites, so that I’m predisposed to enjoying GONE MISSING, the latest installment. Part of the reason for this love is that I have lived in proximity, though not among, the Amish for most of my life. While hardly an expert on the culture of the people, I am familiar enough with it to know when someone gets it right; Castillo gets it right, and has done so since SWORN TO SILENCE, the first book in the series. She does so yet again with GONE MISSING, which uses the practice of Rumspringa as its foundation.
"While many readers may not be familiar with the culture and practices presented in GONE MISSING, Castillo’s true-to-life characters and situations transcend differences, while the intriguing mystery that forms the book’s core will gain her a number of new fans."
Burkholder is the Chief of Police of the fictional town of Painters Mill, located in the very real Holmes County, Ohio. She was raised Amish but left the community at her majority; after some twists and turns, she is now back among the people and family with whom she was raised, though not a part of them. Her relationship provides an interesting subtext that ties all of the books together and provides some mild suspense as well, given that Burkholder is essentially shunned by the community with which she must deal --- and that must deal with her as well.
Part of that community and its culture is the practice of Rumspringa. which is a period of time when Amish teenagers are permitted to experience life to some extent as it is practiced among what the Amish refer to as “The English,” without adhering to the rules of the Ordnung, the set of rules of conduct and worship that vary somewhat community to community but generally limit conduct and behavior far more restrictively than as practiced by general society. On the one hand, it’s not “Girls Gone Wild;” still, it’s a bit of a reverse culture shock to walk into a bar and see a young woman in Amish garb setting a cigarette down to take her turn at a pool table. The boys? We won’t go into that here. The practice is utilized so that teenagers can make the final decision to be baptized and enter the Amish community and way of life permanently.
So it is that Burkholder receives a call from law enforcement colleague (and love interest) John Tomasetti that an Amish girl has gone missing following Rumspringa. She has hardly begun her investigation before she learns that this disappearance is the third and latest to occur over the course of a year. The possibility that the girls had decided to leave the Amish world for that of the English, with its freedoms and temptations, has to be entertained. Yet it's unlikely that any of the girls, let alone all of them, would leave their community and family so abruptly.
While investigating the disappearances, Burkholder is reminded of her own decision and the subsequent fallout, for better and worse. When a startling and horrific discovery is made, however, she realizes that there is something far more nefarious occurring than a decision to change lifestyles. She methodically follows what scant evidence there is, going through obstacles when she can’t go over and around them. Even Burkholder, though no stranger to the area, is surprised by what she discovers; the subtle but chilling conclusion will leave the reader thoughtful and wondering.
While many readers may not be familiar with the culture and practices presented in GONE MISSING, Castillo’s true-to-life characters and situations transcend differences, while the intriguing mystery that forms the book’s core will gain her a number of new fans. This series, which started off strongly, gets better with each installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 20, 2012