I purchased a copy of this book for my mom when I bought my copy. A day later she called me, letting me know she was behind on everything because she'd finished Sworn to Silence then immediately downloaded the next three books in the series and read them. I read this book and the sequel, Pray for Silence, back to back. It was that good.
The thing I loved about this book was that it stood out from the rest of the genre and it featured a unique heroine. The series centers around Kate Burkholder, the chief of police in a small town called Painters Mill. There's a large Amish community there, and Kate was raised Amish herself before leaving the faith. Be warned, this is not a typical Amish romance/mystery. This is not tender realizations about feelings while wearing a bonnet (sorry, kapp). No, this is a gritty thriller with sex in it. So don't buy it for your Aunt Betty who loves Beverly Lewis–unless Betty also digs slasher/ detective fiction. In which case Betty can come to my knitting group. She's badass.
So Kate used to be Amish but left the community. Although she's no longer Amish, her history allows her to help navigate their world when it comes to keeping the peace. Painters Mill doesn't have a lot of crime, drugs, some domestic violence, runaway cows (seriously, you ever try and make a cow go where it doesn't want to? Cows can be assholes), so the police force is small. It's mostly Kate and two other cops, TJ and Glock. And then there is Pickles, the curmudgeonly semi-retired cop. I LOVED PICKLES. I mean his name is FUCKING PICKLES. C'mon.
So when the body of an Amish girl is found in the snow, raped and mutilated, it's a big damn deal. The community is terrified that a killer from sixteen years ago, the Slaughterhouse Killer (because all serial killers need names like that), has re-emerged. When a second woman is found, it's bad enough that a state investigator, John Tomasetti, is called in to help.
And here's where it gets really good.
Kate is freaked out. Not by the murders (well, yeah), but because she's pretty sure she killed the Slaughterhouse Killer sixteen years ago. She left the Amish because of a crisis of faith she had after a terrible assault. As a teenager she was raped by a home invader, and in a panic for her life, she shot and killed him with her father's shotgun. Afraid for what would happen to his daughter in the English (non-Amish) justice system, Kate's dad buried the body in an old barn and they both vowed to never tell a soul. Was the man she killed just another rapist psychopath? Or did he not die?
There's a scene where Kate goes to the old, crumbling barn with a flashlight and shovel to see if she can find the remains, and I had goosebumps in the best way.
That's what I loved so much about this series. The best thrillers have a sense of dread that pervades them, a feeling of wrongness hanging out at the edges of your vision. This is kind of an a Midwestern, bleak mid-winter Gothic. It's deliciously creepy without ever veering into supernatural territory.
And Kate is superb too. She's quiet and reserved, battling her own demons, but she's a competent cop and she cares deeply about her community. She's an outsider, shunned by the Amish, and a curiosity to the mainstream community for being a female police chief and formerly Amish herself.
John Tomasetti is a great, nuanced character too. He's an addict, swallowing pills and booze to medicate his own demons. His wife and daughter were murdered, and he never forgave himself for not being able to protect them. When he and Kate meet, the tension of the case and their mutual attraction drive them to a secret, forbidden affair. There's no romantic resolution in this book. The romantic arc continues at least into the next book, but I believe the rest of the series as well. And I desperately want these two to get together and find happiness. Given how fucked up their pasts are, I believe it would take several books to make that happen, so it doesn't feel dragged out to me.
Castillo also used to write Harlequin Intrigues, and I believe her backlist is still available digitally. It amazes me how many great thriller writers got their start with romance (Tess Gerritsen for one).
If you love thrillers with a little romance (or romance with A LOT of thriller) and you want something totally different from what's being published right now, go buy this book. You won't be disappointed.