Castillo builds an impressive thriller from the first chapter, a harrowing tale of murder set in an Amish community in Painter’s Mill, Ohio. Sheriff Kate Burkholder, the daughter of an Amish family who has left the fold, is called to the scene where three adults have apparently perished in the barn of their farm. Burkholder’s emotions are quickly engaged by the uncertain fate of four orphaned children. Vivid memories of her own troubled past reawakened, Kate harbors a secret she has never shared, not even with BCI agent John Thomasetti, her current lover.
While the details of an assumed accident-turned-homicide and a spate of hate crimes are the crux of the thriller, equally as engaging is the unfolding trust and affection between Burkholder and Thomasetti, both with their own weighty emotional baggage and the courage to breach restraints while comforting one another in crisis. Burying themselves in their work, John and Kate have found an unexpected haven neither knew existed. When the small force of Painter’s Mill is stretched beyond capacity and John is asked to consult, Kate welcomes his assistance with the murders and the rash of hate crimes terrorizing the Amish community. Is there a connection between the attacks and the murders, or is Painter’s Mill in the midst of escalating violence?
Kate’s Amish background gives Castillo opportunity to explore the cultural issues of a closed society that resists any interference from outside authorities, preferring to handle any issues among themselves: “What communion hath light with darkness?” This wall of silence affects Kate’s ability to do her job, the future of the four orphans in question when an uncle who has broken from the Amish lifestyle demands legal custody in opposition to the community. The traumatized children, especially fifteen-year-old Sarah, tug at Kate’s heart, her childhood history achingly resurrected by the young woman’s fear and confusion.
In spite of the obvious facts of the cases at hand - or any facile solutions - Castillo plunges deeper into her characters’ lives, into the damaged psyches and dark recesses of family secrets that fester in the shadows. Innocence is plundered as any assumptions are turned upside down, the chief face to face with a life-and-death decision with damning consequences. This thriller is a sleeper, one that begins with a shocking but not unusual scenario that quickly slides into the murky landscape of thwarted desire, twisted passion, and the near-success of a conscienceless killer. Amish or English, some places in the human heart are so damaged that only time and trust can heal the wounds.