Book Review

Review: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo


Title: Sworn to Silence
Author: Linda Castillo
Publication Info: Minotaur 2011
ISBN: 978-0312597160
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Book Sworn to Silence Full disclosure: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo isn't so much a romantic suspense as it is a thriller with a romantic subplot. It was so deliciously good that I had to review it though.

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.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jcscot says:

    I went looking for this on amazon uk and it’s 59p.  Bargainous!

    Great review – makes me want to read the book.  I love strong female leads and the interesting background – I know next to nothing about the Amish (aside from Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in Witness – serious chemistry!) being from the UK.

  2. 2
    Sarah says:

    This was made into a movie (I saw it on Lifetime)  starring Neve Campbell.  It’s title is An Amish Murder. I stayed up way too late watching it because I forgot that I could DVR it, but in my defense, it is an enthralling movie.
    It also stars C. Thomas Howell and when I saw that, I turned to my dozing husband and said, “If C. Thomas is in your movie, he is the bad guy.”  And I was right.  So rare and wonderful when that happens.

  3. 3
    Dora says:

    This sounds like a great book. I am totally with you in that the best thrillers have that air of wrongness about them, and it isn’t something a lot of authors can pull off. Mo Hayder, by contrast, writes some of the most captivating and unsettling thrillers around, but her stuff tends to be SO disturbing it can be really hard to take. (Like The Bird Man, or The Devil of Nanking.)

  4. 4
    maybeimamazed02 says:

    This sounds AWESOME! I’m from the Midwest myself, and there’s nothing like a well-written sense of bleakness to add to a thriller. (Gillian Flynn also captures this amazingly well.)

    Just put it on hold at the library!

  5. 5
    Jill B says:

    @Sarah: I make exactly the same comment when C. Thomas Howell pops up as a character on ANY show – he is always the killer! He has had a string of these roles lately. I was impressed after I watched the movie then read the book to see how closely they stuck to the storyline. Well done!

    There are a lot of Amish communities in Ohio where the books are set, and that makes it even more interesting to me as an Ohio resident. Two thumbs up for the series.

  6. 6
    Lori says:

    Dammit. Not much makes me 1-click a $9.99 book. You managed it.

  7. 7
    LaineyT says:

    I’m not sure what scares me more, the plot for this books or that I will enjoy it enough that I’ll end up buying the rest of the series (I know my budget is TERRIFIED! :o )

    @Sarah and Jill B …you are sooo right about C. Thomas Howell, however I do still remember when I was in lurrrve with him during his immediate post-Ponyboy Curtis days.  I especially remember crushing hard during the very short-lived TV series “Two Marriages” in which he played the brooding but hawt boy-next-door.

  8. 8
    FranA says:

    This is sitting on my bookshelf. Guess I need to read it. I had picked this up along with 3 other books by Castillo at the Goodwill store. Can’t beat the .59 price.

  9. 9
    Rosario says:

    I’ve read and liked several of Castillo’s Romantic Suspense books, and this one sounds very much like them. She’s certainly not afraid of a little darkness!

  10. 10
    Vicki says:

    I really loved this book and the next one was quite good. Having practiced in western PA, not so far from where the books are set, and having dealt with a lot of Amish families, I felt as if she got a lot of it right. However, I think the series jumped the shark about the fourth book in. Some things just didn’t ring true and some things seemed especially exagerated. Sad, because I did love the first two so much.

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