Sworn to Silence – Linda Castillo

This review was originally posted to the Libri Populus website – a great site for bookish people.

Title – Sworn to Silence

Author – Linda Castillo

Published – 2009

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the first in a series of thrillers by Linda Castillo. Castillo isn’t new to writing, she had 20 “romantic suspense novels” to her name when “Sworn to Silence” was published, but that did make me wonder how she would make the transition to a heavier weight story. I have to say that I thought she did a great job. 

Some secrets are too terrible to reveal …Some crimes are too unspeakable to solve …Painter’s Creek, Ohio may be a sleepy, rural town with both Amish and ‘English’ residents, but it’s also the place where a series of brutal murders shattered the lives of an entire community over a decade ago. When the killing stopped, it left in its aftermath a sense of fragility, and for the young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, a realization that she didn’t belong. Now, 15 years, two dead parents and a wealth of experience later, Katie has been asked to return as Chief of Police. Her Amish background combined with her big-city law enforcement expertise make her the perfect candidate. Katie is certain she has come to terms with the past. Until the first body of a slaughtered young woman is found in a pristine, snowy field…

The novel is set in Painters Mill, a small town inHolmes County,Ohio. It’s a rural farming community with a mix of Amish and “English” residents. The story takes place in January and the weather is an important feature of the story – with deep snow, lots of ice, frozen ground and short days with long nights. 

The story opens with a pretty grisly murder and the quick discovery of the victim by the police. Castillo’s main character is Kate Burkholder, the Chief of Police. She’s relatively inexperienced when it comes to dealing with homicides and she’s supported by a small group of officers that includes a drunk and a part-retired 74 year old, so she’s not off to a flying start. 

One of the important facets of the story is that Burkholder was brought up in the area and was herself raised as Amish, but left the religion and her family in her teens. This gives her the advantage of being able to relate to both communities. However, her history with the Amish and her “Bann” (or shunning) can complicate her dealings with the community in general and her family in particular. 

The murder has echoes of a serial killer (The Slaughterhouse Killer) who terrorised the area some sixteen years before. Despite striking similarities Burkholder believes that, for reasons that will become clear as the story unfolds, this must be a different killer. 

When the town’s councillors feel that Burkholder is inexplicably dragging her feet they draft in support from the State’s Bureau of Investigation. The officer assigned to the case (Detective John Tomassetti) he has his own problems, however, and his appointment is an attempt by his superiors to set him up for failure. He is an outsider whose presence only complicates the situation further for Burkholder, but when he demonstrates an unorthodox approach to policing she begins to rely on him more. 

In Burkholder the author provides a strong female lead who is trying to succeed in what is perceived by the locals as “man’s role”. She’s a very credible character and one that I was definitely rooting for. There are secrets in her past that she thought would remain buried but which she has to face in order to track down the murderer. 

The serial killer continues to add to the body count and the book maintains a pretty fast pace throughout, before reaching its climax. I liked the fact that this is a very straight-forward mystery – it isn’t complicated by huge descriptions of forensics or pathology and neither was it bogged down by a complicated or convoluted plot.

I have to say that the violence was bit on the gory side, but I have read worse. 

If there was anything that I felt was a little odd about the book it was that there was a mix between first person (Burkholder) and third person for Tomassetti. Swapping between the two seemed a little clunky at times. 

This is a book that really delivers what it sets out to – a proper “whodunnit”.

Score – 4/5

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4 comments

  1. I read this a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I have the second book at home but for some reason haven’t read it yet but I am looking forward to it nonetheless. I think she has a third out too now

    1. Despite my best intentions I haven’t bought the second book yet, but I do need to stock up on holiday reading for September, so this might be a good bet.

    1. Well despite my best intentions I still haven’t got the second book. But it is on my Christmas list! No saying when I might get around to reading it though.

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