This is the fourth novel in the author’s popular Kate Burkholder series. Set in Ohio’s Amish country with a protagonist who once was Amish, the mysteries revolve around what happens when this unique population brushes up against true evil – both from within their own ranks and from their contact with Englishers. This mystery centers around young teens who are experiencing a unique time in the life of an Amish person – Rumspringa, a time when you get to experience life outside that ordained by the ordnung. It is supposed to be a time of exploration and joy but as the case proves here, it can be deadly dangerous to experience new things.
Being a police chief has its advantages, and one of them is not having to patrol the night shift. Kate doesn’t mind covering for her deputies on rare occasions, though, and one of those occasions has her busting up a fight amongst a group of teens. Her sense of routine turns to surprise when she finds that the two youngsters fighting are actually girls and that one of those girls is her sister’s niece. Nice young Amish girls are not normally found smoking, drinking and brawling. As she discusses the incident with young Sadie she finds her heart aching for the girl. Kate can relate all to well to her rebellious spirit that yearns for art, education, success, and all the other things denied to this population. Kate herself left the faith for just that reason.
Kate is still thinking about young Sadie and her issues as she heads home. Her dreams of sleep are interrupted by a call from on again off again lover John Tamosetti. John is an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. He has a case he wants Kate to serve as a consultant on. Since small town cops aren’t often called to serve as consultants for the State Kate is intrigued and thrilled. She becomes a touch less thrilled when she learns what it is about – helping find a missing young Amish girl. Despite her trepidation, Kate heads out, anxious to help on the case and be with John.
The case quickly shows a rising complexity. It is clear that it goes far beyond one missing teen. The local Amish community, distrustful of government in general and law enforcement in particular, have been less than forthcoming when interviewed. Kate is able to help them open up, applying both her knowledge of their language and their culture as she speaks to them. However, an increase in information only leads to an increase in frustration. With suspects at every turn and no concrete evidence to lead them down the right path John and Kate must rely on each other in order to find the solution to this perplexing puzzle. And they must move quickly, for their perp is accelerating his program and has struck quite close to home this time around.
The mystery here is gripping. I was fairly certain I knew what was happening but still found myself surprised by all the twists and turns the case took. Kate is definitely up to the challenge, working relentlessly to find the missing young people who remind her so much of herself. As a cop Kate’s strong point is her relentlessness. She works every angle, multiple times if she needs to, to arrive at the solution.
She is also working hard to figure out what is happening with John. Both of them have enough baggage to sink the Titanic; John’s wife and two daughters were murdered three years ago by an ex con trying to get back at them, and he is at a point where he is questioning what kind of fahter he was. Kate is a mess from a rape that that happened in her teens years, something she has never quite gotten over. She has quit drinking, so she has solved at least one of her problems, but the others all remain glaringly present. The question is, messed up as they are, is there any possible way for them to make things work? Or is this long distance, occasional meet up during cases all they can hope for? For those following the series, something new definitely happens in this arena. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we do know that it will change everything. Then again, these two are good at stretching things out, so maybe not. Still, it shows at least one of them is thinking of the future.
What kept the book from being an A for me is that the characters lacked real growth and that the mystery, while good, felt similar to the ones in the books before it. I would like to see a case where Kate didn’t identify with the nearest Amish teen girl. Or one where she has moved beyond seeing herself in her. I think it is natural – especially for someone who has seen so much of the dark side of life – to wonder if they were ever that young. Kate can’t seem to forget when she was.
That quibble aside, this is an excellent mystery, even if you haven’t read the previous books. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a taut, exciting suspense story