SELF-HATE IS A KILLER
It has been ten months since Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkeholder and BCI Agent John Tomasetti solved the Slaughterhouse Killer murders. Professionally, those ten months have been relatively smooth for both of them. Personally speaking, not so much.
Kate has been choosing vodka more and more as her pacifier of choice as the resolution of the serial murders did not exactly resolve the problems the murderer resurrected in Kate’s psyche. Meanwhile, although John has significantly decreased his alcohol and pill usage, he has developed paralyzing anxiety attacks.
And their complex, on-again off-again, love affair has been, due to Kate’s issues, in the off-again phase for about two months. Coincidentally – or not – this latest off-again situation seems to correspond to the onset of John’s panic attacks.
On the exact same day, Kate’s and John’s professional lives hit critical mass. For Kate, it is the discovery of 7 bodies, the entire Plank family, murdered on their farm. Two appear to have been executed; two appear to have been shot while fleeing. Two have been strung up in the barn, like so much meat, tortured and mutilated. And the father of the family lies dead in the house, powder burns on his mouth, his brains on the wall, and a gun in his hand.
However, as former Amish, Kate knows the average Amish family does not usually possess, or need, a semi-automatic handgun. A rifle for slaughtering cattle or pigs, yes. A shotgun for dispensing with destructive critters, yes. A Glock or a Beretta, no. But it is not until she sees the bruising circling the man’s unbound wrists that she is certain the scene has been staged to look like a murder-suicide. Someone out there needed this entire family dead.
Kate is determined to get justice for the family, but the autopsy results on the youngest female change that determination dramatically. Forced to confront a series of stunning parallels between this dead girl and herself at the same age, the need for justice transforms into a need for revenge. Not a good place for a cop’s mind to be – just ask Tomasetti.
For Tomasetti, his professional crisis revolves around being forced to take administrative leave for failing a drug test, a test he had actually failed nearly a year ago. At the time of the test, Tomasetti had been on desk duty for psych issues following the torture, rape and immolation of his wife and daughters by a drug lord. He was also on desk duty because the brass considered him a corrupt cop and a rogue after he beat a grand jury investigation into the later torture and immolation death of that same drug lord.
The BCI had wanted Tomasetti gone for some time and the only legal way they could find to dismiss him under ADA was to set him up to fail. So they put Tomasetti back into the field as back-up for Kate in the Slaughterhouse Killer case. They figured he would simply disintegrate under the pressure of the high-profile case and give them ample grounds for dismissal.
The bureaucrats were wrong. Not only did Tomasetti not disintegrate, he earned a commendation for his work. And didn’t that just frost his boss’ cake! Now, after all the backslapping has subsided and in spite of exemplary work since, the boss pulls out the drug charge. Tomasetti is put on leave, required to pass a drug test weekly and see a company shrink until such point as that psychiatrist deems Tomasetti “fit” for duty.
It is clear Tomasetti’s boss feels that he will go down in short order. But little does that boss know that Tomasetti has already quit the painkillers. And he needs his job, from a psychological standpoint, so badly that he makes his first appointment with the shrink for that very afternoon. And then, in the middle of the psych session, Kate calls, asking for his help with the Plank family murders.
Castillo does a fine job of manufacturing a murder mystery with twist after turn after twist, most of which you do not see coming, and neither does Kate. Just when you think you have the identity of the killer figured out, you don’t. Or you just think you don’t and go off on another path that Castillo so adeptly places before you.
And Castillo also does a fine job of manufacturing a devolvement in Kate’s character that makes you just want to slap Kate senseless. No, that’s not exactly right. Kate’s already senseless and so self-involved, so full of guilt and anger, so selfish that you just want Castillo to write in some intervention, some promising light at the end of Kate’s oh-woe-is-me tunnel. You want and you wait for the misery to end, or just let up. Unfortunately, on the very last page, you will still be wanting and waiting.
Castillo has Kate sinking farther into the role of a functional alcoholic while she is writing Tomasetti as a man who is climbing, even if only by centimeters, out of his pit of despair. However, this reader can only take a whining protagonist with a victim complex for just so long. And when that protagonist is a police chief who has started drinking on the job and who places her officers at unnecessary risk just to pacify her own personal demons, sympathy for that character can wither in moments.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tomasetti is still a broken soul, but Castillo has his breaks ever so slowly knitting together. She has him gain ground and then lose some, particularly in the scenes where he has a panic attack, scenes which, by the way, are incredibly well written. Just like Kate, he doesn’t want to feel the way he does, but he now accepts that he must deal with what is, rather than pine for what was. He no longer wants to eat his gun, while Kate is plowing headlong into suicide by cop, with her own self being the “cop.”
Hopefully, Castillo has some positive movement scheduled for Kate Burkeholder in her next novel. While flawed characters make realistic and even likeable protagonists, flawed characters who have started digging their personal holes to Hell with a backhoe instead of a shovel are not so tolerable. I’ll stick for another book, maybe two, but I don’t pay money for very long to read about a first-person-POV character who has lost not only a significant amount of socially redeeming value but also my respect.
Cover Art From Goodreads