Castillo has carved a well-deserved niche with the Kate Burkholder thrillers, community policing in rural areas embellished with cultural contributions of the Amish families that populate Painterís Mill, Ohio. As Chief of Police in Painterís Mill, Burkholder has proven her mettle in recent investigations, her personal life with state agent John Tomasetti moving forward since her recent move to his farm. But separating business and pleasure prove complicated in this novel.
The couple face the inevitable hurdles of living together, not ready for the final commitment but experienced enough to appreciate the value of a good partnership--and its rarity.
In fact, when a tornado tears through Painterís Mill at the beginning of the novel, devastating swaths of helpless people, Tomasetti is right behind Kate when as
Kate rescues a mother and baby at a nearly-decimated trailer park. The mother safe but the childís recovery unknown, Kate is overwhelmed by the experience of removing the infant from harm and the weight of the responsibility she feels. Soon enough, trouble arises over the rescue, but that particular problem is overshadowed by a shocking discovery: human bones found at the site of a cleanup after the tornado. With modern scientific techniques and a lucky break, Kate is eventually able to put a name to the deceased: a young Mennonite man, Leroy Nolt, who disappeared thirty years ago.
Though there are some Mennonites in the area, the predominant Amish community does not mix with them, preserving a strict separation. As a member of a local Amish family but no longer practicing the faith, Kate has both the history and language necessary to interview families in recreating the events that led to Leroyís death. This is delicate territory, the police department careful not to antagonize their Amish neighbors.
Still, it is a serious investigation into a death, Burkholderís primary responsibility to assess how Nolt died. The complex melding of the historical and present-day concerns make Castilloís stories fascinating, the balancing of the Amish way of life and Burkholderís stubborn refusal to back away from the difficult questions this case requires.
A series of blatant attempts on Kateís life add another layer of threat to an already tense plot, though the person behind the attempts remains unknown, possibly attributable to the parents of the baby Burkholder rescued during the tornado. Regardless of the identity of whomever is using Burkholder for target practice, the secret quietly buried until a helpful Boy Scout troop unearths human remains demands resolution, specific answers so Leroy Nolt may finally be put to rest. Once Kate feels secure in the direction of her queries among the Amish families long entrenched in Painterís Mill, she digs in, ignoring personal concerns to unravel complicated and forbidden relationships, secrets thought safely locked away. While the attacks on her person continue, Tomasetti is at his witís end with worry, understanding too well that Kate will forge ahead in spite of her promise to be careful. Itís one of the qualities that make her such a good cop. Eventually, at great personal cost, her life with Tomasetti deeply affected by choices she is forced to make, the veil of silence is lifted, revealing ugly and painful truths.
The characters in the Kate Burkholder thrillers are well-drawn, fitted comfortably to their environment, with colorful personalities and deep loyalty to their sheriff, a woman
who leads by example. Once caught up in the mystery of the unidentified body, Burkholder is tenacious and fearless, even at her own peril. With a protagonist whose childhood forges unbreakable bonds with her Amish neighbors (and family members), Castillo proves her flair once again for mixing past and present in Painterís Mill, where both are uniquely relevant.