FORESTS AND TREES
Agent John Tomasetti, with Ohio’s BCI state investigative force, has been assigned to delve into the disappearances of three female Amish teens. The disappearances have all occurred in the area surrounding Buck Creek, but the time span ranges from just a few days missing to almost a year.
Tomasetti calls Kate Burkeholder, the Painter’s Mill police chief, and asks her to consult with the task force on this investigation, his request being both professionally and personally motivated. From a professional standpoint, not only is Kate a cop, she is former Amish and has an insider’s view on the culture which has prevented law enforcement outsiders from gleaning enough information to search for the girls properly. She also speaks Pennsylvania Dutch, the language the area Amish often use to keep the Englischers at arm’s length.
On the personal side, Tomasetti and Kate have been involved in an exclusive, long-distance relationship for over a year. Tomasetti’s office is nearly a hundred miles from Painter’s Mill and that distance, plus their various cases, keeps them more apart than together. However, they trust each other implicitly, both personally and professionally, and they work well together. So, for Tomasetti and Kate, this consulting gig is good for everyone involved.
It doesn’t take Kate too long to begin ferreting out clues from the Amish parents of the missing girls. It takes even less time for the body of the latest missing teen to surface. And then another Amish girl, the niece of Kate’s brother-in-law back in Painter’s Mill, disappears.
Everything that Kate has gathered from the parents and friends of the missing girls, as well as what she personally knows about her own family’s Sadie, boils down to cultural dissention. All the victims were rebelling against the restrictions of the Amish faith. They had been argumentative and secretive with their parents and had been illicitly consorting with Englischers. And each one had professed a desire to leave the Amish faith permanently.
So the question for Kate and Tomasetti is whether the girls have chosen to leave the area voluntarily by way of the local “Underground Railroad,” whether their rebellion has made them prey to an Englischer sexual deviant, or whether someone wants to punish them for being unfaithful to their Church law. And a list of suspects who could fit into any or all of these categories abounds.
The majority of this book takes place within a 72-hour period. Thus, both the clues and the red herrings come fast and thick. Linda Castillo, as in the previous entries of the series, writes this book in Kate Burkeholder’s first-person, present moment POV, which makes the case unfold in real time. Thus, Castillo creates an edgy tenseness that comes from the reader having no fly-on-the-wall perspective or little warning as to what is upcoming.
Castillo also changes the personal focus of Kate and Tomasetti in this novel. In the previous entries, the author has focused the story arcs around situations that would emphasize Kate’s rape as a teenager or the rape/murders of Tomasetti’s wife and children. In this issue, Castillo focuses Kate and Tomasetti on the way parents treat their children and how parents often delude themselves as to the reality of their children’s lives. Tomasetti, in particular, is forced by the circumstances of the disappearances and murders, to acknowledge his culpability in these areas with respect to his young daughters prior to their rapes and murders.
Psychologically, this can be a tough book to read. Castillo pulls no punches here about emotional, physical or sexual abuse within a family. And the chapters that reveal and interact with the murderer are absolute mental torture, since they are told in real-time, rather than in third person.
Lastly, a word to the wise reader here – Don’t skim the Prologue too quickly just to get into the meat of the novel faster. Pay attention to EVERY character mentioned in that Prologue, not just to Becca and what you know is coming by the time you have read the first few sentences. Prologues aren’t always a scene-setter or a quick blip back to the past. Sometimes a Prologue is the forewarning to the Epilogue.
Cover Art From Goodreads