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Sworn to Silence from Linda Castillo, published by Macmillan in the UK, comes across as a debut of sorts, but Castillo is a prolific writer who has won a number of awards. It appears that with Sworn to Silence we now see her published for the first time in the UK with a UK publisher, whereas previous titles have been available from US publishers only. With this novel, the interest for me lay with its setting within the Amish community and remained so after reading.
The town of Painters Mill is part Amish, part 'English'. Its Chief of Police is Kate Burkholder, a young woman who chose not to enter the church when she turned eighteen. Thus she was put under the bann, left the town and had a wild time for a while before joining the police. Some sixteen years later, still young and a tad inexperienced, she has returned to Painters Mill and to the top job.
One night, the body of a young woman is found in the snow and her injuries have echoes of the past; of the one other time that Painters Mill has suffered any real disturbance to its sleepy rurality. Is a sadistic killer – never caught all those years ag0 – now back? Kate's investigation is complicated by the fact that she thinks she knows more about the outcome of the old case than others around her and it's a secret she'd prefer to keep hidden. It affects her work and the perception others have of her handling of the case. Before you can say Burkholder, another body is discovered and Kate is swept into a politically enforced multi-agency investigation.
The novel has both pros and cons, but the pros far outweigh the cons to make for a compelling read; one I found hard to put down and raced to finish. The strengths lie in the exploration of cultures of the Amish and the English living alongside, particularly when Kate examines her own past and how she fits in. This is also Kate's story of how she is forced to resolve the issues of her past and Kate makes for a very strong and interesting character. Sworn to Silence is also suitably sympathetic to and educational about the Amish. The plot moves at a great pace with some good twists.
However, the plot is not without its fault lines that stretch credibility on times. And, with a serial killer at large, a couple of passages of writing proved to be a tad clunky, with others erring on the side of the cliché read many times before. We also have descriptions of torture. So if new to this, or of a sensitive nature, it's best to be warned.
In the paperback of Sworn to Silence you will find the opening of the next novel in the series at the end: Silencing the Dead. This opens with the slaughter of an Amish family on a farmstead in Painters Mill. Much as I love the character of Kate Burkholder and look forward to reading more, I do wonder how many dreadful cases this peaceful town could suffer.
Sworn to Silence is a gripping read and a welcome start to a series.
(Copy received from publisher.)