November 09, 2009

BOOKS: Sworn to Silence, Linda Castillo (2009)

Painters Mill, Ohio, is a small town of some 5,000 people, about a third of whom are Amish. Kate Burkholder, was raised Amish, but chose not to join the church when she turned eighteen; after a few years on the Columbus police force (which qualifies as "big city" experience by Painters Mill standards), she's returned to Painters Mill, where she is now the chief of police.

For the most part, it's a fairly quiet job -- the occasional domestic dispute, some traffic accidents, cows getting loose and wandering the roads -- but when the bodies of young women start turning up, it appears that Painters Mill has a serial killer on the loose. And not just any serial killer, but the notorious Slaughterhouse Killer, who terrorized the town fifteen years ago (when Kate was a young teen), killing four women before apparently disappearing. Kate is particularly horrified by his apparent return, because she thought she knew where he had been for all those years, and now fears that her own secrets about the past will be revealed by the investigation.

This is a solid police procedural, and Castillo does a particularly good job of creating an interesting mix of officers working to solve the case. There are not only Kate's own officers, but officers from the county sheriff's office, and an agent from the state police as well; the mix of personalities and jurisdictional conflicts reminded me of the novels by Archer Mayor, set in a southern Vermont town that's not too much bigger than Painters Mill.

Kate's discovery of the killer's identity is nicely plotted, and the scenes leading to his capture are skillfully done, tense and exciting. Those who are bothered by graphic depictions of killers at work should be warned that there are a few scenes of the Slaughterhouse Killer torturing his victim; they aren't the most pleasant reading, but I didn't find them to be excessive by today's standards, either in amount or in graphic detail.

I could have done without the semi-obligatory romantic subplot, which only served to slow down the story, and the Amish background didn't amount to as much as I would have hoped; perhaps future volumes (and this is announced as the first in a series) will dig a little deeper into that culture. But on the whole, Sworn to Silence is an entertaining police procedural, and a solid debut for Castillo.

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