This is the third in the author’s mystery series set in Ohio Amish country. I haven’t read the previous entries, but this worked for me as a standalone. With a flawed main character, an unusual mode of murder, and a setting peppered with insights into conflicts between the Amish and Englishers, this gripped me from the beginning and held my interest throughout.
A series of hate crimes against the Amish is escalating. The crimes are particularly difficult for Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkholder to solve as the Amish refuse to cooperate. The Amish victims and their families hold the belief that they will take care of their own, and will not speak to the Englisher police. Finally, John Tomasetti, an Ohio State investigator is sent to investigate. Kate and John first met several years earlier on a murder investigation, and they’ve developed an interesting relationship. In addition to being lovers, they’re both insomniacs and know they can call each other in the middle of the night.
Before John arrives, a particularly grisly murder is discovered. The parents and uncle of four Amish children are found dead in a manure pit. Kate was Amish herself until she was a teenager, but this doesn’t help with her investigation. She understands much about the Amish way of life, but the Amish don’t want to have any more to do with her than any other Englisher. The deaths, and in particular her interactions with the children, bring up many difficult feelings about her past that Kate has kept hidden for years.
The strengths of this book for me were the characters and the insights into the Amish way of life. Both Kate and John have gone through dark times. John’s wife and children were murdered several years earlier, but he seems to be moving out of his deep depression. Kate, on the other hand, seems to be on a downward spiral. She isn’t dealing with the memories the case is evoking for her, and her drinking is getting out of control. At one point Kate passes out after drinking too much, too fast. In the midst of the investigation, we learn some things about Kate’s past that weren’t revealed previously.
There are some interesting secondary characters in the book. Although many of them don’t appear on page for an extended time, they made an impression. Particularly noteworthy are “Pickles,” the 74-year old police officer who’s grown to respect Kate; Bishop Troyer, the Amish Bishop who has some interesting interactions with Kate; and Mona, the night dispatcher at the police station who longs to be an officer.
I read a lot of mysteries, but what I care for most in them is the characters. I’ll take interesting, well-developed characters over an intricately plotted mystery any day and Kate is definitely interesting. In this case, the murders are actually fairly interesting, as well, but it’s Kate and John that will bring me to read the next in the series. I’m very curious to discover what the author has planned for these two.