Minotaur Books, New York/St Martin’s Press
26 Chapters; 277 pages
I. Murder Book Summary
You see it on television and read about it in the newspaper. You shake your head sadly as you reach for your morning coffee. “What’s the world coming too,” you wonder as you blow across the coffee cup and take a sip.
You just can’t imagine anything like “that” happening to you or any of your neighbors. After all, you live in a safe, quite, neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone. You live far from the crazy city and have round the clock security patrols.
And yet, “it” happens all the time, with frightening regularity. “It’s” happening to wealthy families in nice neighborhoods, and poor families in slums. “It” crosses racial, ethnic, and religious divides.
Every year, young children and teenagers are abducted from their homes and communities, and more often than not, are never seen alive again.
Imagine how you’d feel if your precious child vanished without a trace. Allow yourself to feel the stomach-churning sensation of fear twisting your guts inside out. Experience the sense of bewilderment when you realize that your prayers for their safe return may not be answered.
Now imagine your community being a close-knit closed entity that is naturally suspicious of all outsiders. This is a community where nothing unusual ever happens. Life moves slowly and predictably as it has for generations.
You and your neighbors are used to handling situations “in-house” and discourage any interaction with strangers, especially law enforcement.
But, there is evil lurking here in this quite, closed off place. It is an evil that preys upon the most vulnerable among you.
And now, you and your neighbors are forced to seek help from the“hated” outsiders you dislike and mistrust.
This is the chilling scenario presented to us by Linda Castillo, in her most recent novel, “Gone Missing”. One by one, teenagers, mostly girls, are disappearing from Ohio’s Amish community.
And now, the “English” police, lead by Ex-Amish, and Chief of Painter’s Mill police department Kate Burkholder are here, with their annoying, invasive questions.
She is accompanied by her partner/friend (and much more), John Tomasetti who is as tough and no-nonsense as they come. He’s a conflicted cop, however. His wife and two children were murdered a few years ago. This case brings back haunting memories of his dead family.
When questioned by the authorities, it becomes apparent that either the Amish have no clue as to their children’s activities, or they are desperately trying to hide something.
As much as the parents try to deny it, all these missing young people have one thing in common: disenchantment with the “plain” life of the Amish which has nurtured them since childhood.
I suppose you can’t blame the parents. All parents want to believe their children are content with the life that has been provided for them by themselves and the community.
Assume for a moment you are 16 year old Bonnie Fisher’s parents. You are Amish, and your daughter has been missing for 2 months. Your natural suspicion towards outside authority is intensified by fear and frustration. Your anger is so intense that sometimes it makes you grit your teeth in rage.
And here comes this young woman chief of police who has been excommunicated from your church. She and her partner dare to ask questions you thought you’d already answered before.
You deny that Bonnie has any family issues. There have been no arguments or fights. You grow very uncomfortable when asked about possible boyfriends. You become increasingly defensive and resent the chief’s prying questions.
Your hostile attitude is understandable when viewed in the harsh light of reality. The fact is Bonnie’s feelings about Amish life were very different from yours.
She had a secret boyfriend. In fact, she had more than one sexual partner. And to make matters worse, she was pregnant and unsure who the father was.
You don’t understand how your daughter would involve herself in such activities. She behaved like one of the “English.” And now, she’s gone missing.
It’s pretty much the same story with the other missing teens.
Annie King was strong-willed, restless, and 15 years old. Her “English” boyfriend has a criminal record. He says the “plain” life was too restrictive for Annie. She’d said so many times before. She was known to ride around in cars, smoking cigarettes, and using a cell phone. She’s been missing for at least 36 hours.
Sadie Miller, also 15, is bright, confident, and defiant. She is a gifted child, who is interested in needlepoint, art, music and travel. She has dreams of going off to college. Her parents are clueless as to the extent of her rebelliousness.
Her best friend stated that Sadie smoked, cussed, and was constantly talking about leaving. She went missing while Kate and Tomasetti were investigating the other disappearances.
Noah Mast is an 18 year old male Amish who disappeared 9 years ago. The local police assumed he was a runaway. He liked to drink and party with the ladies.
All these young people disappeared at a time when they were ready for a serious life change. Because of their youth and inexperience, this leaves them impressionable to outside influences.
Could one of those “influences” be a kidnapper and a murderer?
Or, as Levi King bemoaned while viewing the remains of his precious Annie: “Who could do this terrible thing?”
32 year old Gideon Stoltzfus is an unmarried, ex-Amish with a “past.” He was arrested 10 years ago for having sex with a young Amish boy. The boy was over the age of 18, so there was no conviction. But Gideon left the community in disgrace.
Today, he aids Amish young people escape the “plain” life by funneling them through an “underground railroad” of sorts. He’s always available, helpful, and understanding. He’s just the kind of “nice” guy that an impressionable, trusting kid might turn to in time of crisis.
He admits that Noah Mast contacted him once and asked for assistance. Gideon swears he “never heard from him again” after that initial contact. After the interview, Tomasetti quips, “…either a damn good liar or he’s telling the truth.”
On the other hand, Stacy Karns is not a good liar! The 44 year old African-American is a successful, self-employed photographer. He is quite wealthy and something of a local celebrity.
Karns has earned his wealth the old-fashioned way. He creates candid, un-posed images of Amish young people. It’s a neat trick since the Amish do not like having their likeness captured on film. Karn’s subjects are unaware that they are being photographed.
Mr. Karns also has a police record. He was arrested and convicted for using a minor to create adult-orientated images. He served 6 months in jail, with 5 years probation.
He denies ever meeting or photographing Annie King. The subject of a photograph found in Stacy Karn’s home is Annie King.
II. My Judgment of the murder book:
One of the things that caught my attention about this mystery thriller is why did it take so long for Kate Burholder and John Tomasetti to figure out the common denominator of the victims?
Linda Castillo goes into great detail explaining how rebellious these kids were. Annie and Bonnie acted way outside Amish traditions in most of their actions. And yet, it took Burholder three quarters of the way through to figure out that this could be a motive for murder.
That said, I was in no way bored by this murder book. Castillo manages to cram a lot of interesting stuff and characters into a relatively “small” book.
I found the final confrontation between Kate and the killer to be very suspenseful. Her bull-headedness and dedication to duty almost gets her killed. I won’t tell too much so as not to give it away.
With her knowledge of Amish traditions, Castillo kept me interested. She grew up near the Amish, and is obviously writing about things that she’s experience first hand. And that always makes for a passionate writing experience and an exciting read.
Police Chief Kate Burklolder is my favorite character in this thriller, hands down. Her dedication and stubbornness reminds me of another character I’ll be writing about in the near future: Eve Dallas. During the final conflict, I was cheering her on, even while I was cursing her for being so damn hard-headed.
Here’s a secret you ladies may not know: Guys like tough women. They are so sexy.
Anyway, my final verdict of this murder book is as follows: If you haven’t read it by now, I think you can safely spend you money. I didn’t even fall asleep on the romantic parts. That says something for me.
This is the first Linda Castillo novel I’ve read and it won’t be the last. Enjoy!
If you’d like to know more about Miss Castillo’s work, you can find it here