The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel
There would be a special place in my heart for the Kate Burkholder mysteries even if they weren’t set in a locale that is only a 90-minute drive from my house. Author Linda Castillo has created the fictional Painters Mill, Ohio, within the very real Holmes County, using the quietly dominant Amish community and culture there as a backdrop for the presentation of intriguing and unsettling mysteries involving Chief of Police Burkholder and a fine supporting cast of which her love interest, state law enforcement agent John Tomasetti, is first among equals. Burkholder walks a fine line between two worlds, being of the Amish community but not part of it since leaving it several years ago.
"What sets THE DEAD WILL TELL above its worthy predecessors in the series is the subtle manner in which Castillo draws comparisons between the murders associated with the Hochstetler killings and Tomasetti’s own obsessions with those who took the lives of his loved ones."
Castillo deftly provides bits and pieces of information about Amish culture and tradition without overwhelming the reader, and only when such factoids add to the narrative. The combination of background, characters and plot make every Burkholder book a joy to read, particularly in the case of Castillo’s latest offering in the series, where she continues to meet and exceed the standards set by what has gone before.
THE DEAD WILL TELL begins with a horrific prologue that occurs in 1979. A home invasion goes very badly awry, leaving all the members of an Amish family dead but for the eldest son, 14-year-old Billy Hochstetler. Young Billy, who comes to be known as “Hoch,” is taken in by another family and makes as normal a recovery as might be expected. A bit of suspicion falls on Hoch in the present when a series of murders begins occurring in and around Painters Mill. A chilling talisman left at each of the crime scenes ties the killings to the Hochstetler murders, which time has regrettably consigned to the cold case file drawer in the offices of the Painters Mill Police Department.
What Burkholder doesn’t know (but readers do) is that each of the victims was involved, directly or indirectly, in the murders that occurred on that fateful night in 1979, and the avenging angel that is executing a rough and long-delayed justice against them appears to be the spirit of Mother Hochstetler. The killer, regardless of which side of the veil she is on, slowly and methodically proceeds with her mission of revenge. Despite her best efforts, Burkholder remains a step or two behind. The potential victims are reticent to speak, due to their own guilt over the actions that took place over three decades before. Burkholder is faced with an unusual dilemma: How do you catch a ghost? And what do you do with her once you’ve caught her?
Meanwhile, Tomasetti is plagued by his own demons. One of the men directly responsible for the death of his family has been released from jail on a slender technicality. Tomasetti should stay away from the man, but can’t. Obsessed with obtaining some justice of his own, Tomasetti may well jeopardize his relationship with Burkholder as well as his own job if he doesn’t do the almost impossible and rein himself in. By the time the book concludes, nothing may ever be the same.
What sets THE DEAD WILL TELL above its worthy predecessors in the series is the subtle manner in which Castillo draws comparisons between the murders associated with the Hochstetler killings and Tomasetti’s own obsessions with those who took the lives of his loved ones. The narrative confronts the ugly truth that justice isn’t always served, but that revenge doesn’t always fill the need, either. This is a fine series that far exceeds its surface regional interest, one that always promises and delivers a chilling mystery with intriguing characters and doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of what has gone before to appreciate what is happening now.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 11, 2014