“YOU SMILED AT HIM”
Twelve years ago, Kate Burkeholder fled Painters Mill, Ohio, and her Amish upbringing for the big city, non-Amish lifestyle of Columbus, with “fled” being the operative word here. Four years earlier, when Kate was only 14, she had been beaten and raped at knifepoint by an 18-year-old Amish man. When her parents and siblings returned from town, they found Kate and their kitchen floor covered in blood. They also found the body of Daniel Lapp, his torso shredded by a shotgun blast at the hands of Kate.
Following Amish law, Kate’s father took control of the situation, sending Kate for a bath and her mother and sister to scrub the kitchen. Not following Amish law, Kate’s father refused to call the police and, along with Kate’s brother, disposed of the body in an abandoned grain silo over in the next county. Then, back to Amish law, he forbade every member of the family to ever, ever speak of the incident again.
Left with no resources with which to work through her emotional pain, her fears and her guilt over taking a life, albeit in self-defense, Kate felt utterly abandoned. As her family began treating her as tainted goods, Kate began acting out and increasingly turned to non-Amish kids for companionship. The only upside to this whole debacle was that the two-year spree of rapes and torture killings of women in the area abruptly stopped after Daniel Lapp “disappeared.”
Now, sixteen years after Kate’s rape and the end of the rape-torture murders, Kate is back in Painter’s Mill. So are the murders – same rape, same torture, same MO as to cause of death. But Kate has been back for two years; the murders have only been back for one day. And Kate is no longer a devastated child or a member of the Amish community. She is Painters Mill’s Chief of Police.
Terrified that Daniel Lapp has somehow survived his wounds, has clawed his way out of the granary’s grave and has returned to seek revenge, Kate’s terror overrides her extensive experience as a big city homicide detective. When she fails to call in additional resources, beyond the sheriff’s office, and when a second tortured body is found, the town council goes behind Kate’s back and brings in Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Enter BCI agent John Tomasetti, our second protagonist. The extent of John’s psychological damage and self-destruction makes Kate look like the proverbial Pollyanna by comparison. He is on a daily cocktail of pain pills, muscle relaxants and Chivas. And he uses that cocktail, unsuccessfully, to drive away the images literally burned into his brain of the immolated bodies of his wife, his two young daughters and his partner. The four had been tortured and raped – even the children – then doused with gasoline and burned alive by a drug lord who wanted an end to John Tomasetti, then a narcotics agent hot on the trail of the kingpin.
The drug lord did not exactly get what he wished for. Blinded by grief and rage, Tomasetti silently stalked the man, practiced the paraphrased advice of “Do unto others as they have done unto you,” and framed the drug lord’s second-in-command for the like-kind torture and murder. And everyone knows John did it; they just can’t prove it.
So now Tomasetti is a pariah within the BCI, branded as a corrupt, rogue cop and a severe head case. The brass cannot fire him outright because of his disability status, but they truly want him gone. So they assign him to the case in Painters Mill, hoping he will self-destruct from the pressure of being out in the field again. Well, the drug lord didn’t get what he wanted and John has no intention of letting his boss sideline him either.
So, Kate has no idea that John Tomasetti is being placed in her path. And John has been lied to about Kate’s law enforcement experience and personal background. Little do Kate and John know, when they are first forced together, the professional, psychological and personal ramifications that each will experience. And little do they know that the serial killer is standing closer to each of them than they can even imagine. Essentially, the bottom line is that two broken individuals, who cannot even trust their own motivations, let alone each other, must stop a killer more broken than they.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW
And speaking of that serial killer, I was able to determine that person’s identity far too easily. The moment I read Tomasetti’s profile of the killer, I knew exactly who the monster was. At this point, the name was not revealed nor did the character admit to the villainy in an internal monologue. I knew because the profile described, almost verbatim, a character to whom we had just been introduced a few pages earlier. A neon sign, in red letters three feet tall, could not have been any clearer. And because that profile is placed so soon after we meet the character, it feels deliberately forced, a poorly executed literary device rather than part of the logical and systematic evolution of the case.
I wish this were a debut author’s rookie mistake, but it is not. Castillo has published at least 18 novels prior to “Sworn to Silence.” Having never read any of these books, I do not know if this kind of literary device is her norm or if it is a deliberate attempt to engage the reader more completely into the story, worrying if the protagonists will be able to figure it out in time.
Either way, I hope Castillo chooses to reveal the identity of her perpetrator in a different manner in future novels – or quit billing her works as “thrillers.” If you have to guess who the villain is, the work is not a thriller, it’s a mystery. And if the perpetrator’s identity is to be a mystery until the final pages of the novel, as in this work, the author needs to space out the clues and red herrings just a bit farther than back-to-back on successive pages.
Castillo uses another device in her writing that is not commonplace in mystery/thrillers. She writes Kate’s POV in first-person present tense, rather than in the more common and comfortable first person past tense. For example, in Kate’s sections, she might say, “I walk up the steps and knock on the door. I listen for movement.” This is a declarative flow that doesn’t really “flow” at first and takes a bit of getting used to. And just as you begin to feel comfortable with that tense usage, Castillo flips to Tomasetti’s POV and uses the more familiar first- or third person past tense. However, believe me when I say that first person present tense truly accentuates the terror when the denouement slams into the plotline.
However, the general POV of the novel, the blending of an ex-Amish female with law enforcement and with the traditional Amish culture is what really sets this novel apart from the standard mystery/thriller. Castillo illustrates, in multiple scenes, that prejudice, bias, and presumption of right-thinking and superiority are traits that are not owned solely by any one particular segment of society.
And, in a book about sexual homicide, Castillo quite dramatically points out that the rock that all brands of cretins, male and female, hide under when rape is involved is still prominently in use and transcends all cultures and religious beliefs. You know what rock I mean – that rock with the words “You deserved it” engraved on it.
So, just be prepared, when you reach the scene between Kate and her brother in the abandoned granary, to set your book or e-reader down gently, take a deep breath and walk off the rage. Because you will never forget, ever, the ultimate import of the words, “You smiled at him.”
Cover Art From Goodreads