In Outsider, the twelfth installment in the Kate Burkholder mystery series, author Linda Castillo gives readers a few more glimpses into the past of our series heroine. Previous books have given us quite a bit of background information on Kate’s early life, but here, the focus shifts to her first few years as a police officer in Columbus, Ohio.
If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily want to commit to a lengthy series like this one but are intrigued by the synopsis, it’s completely fine to dive in right here. The mystery in this book is self-contained, and although there are some references to events from earlier books, you’ll be able to follow the plot with no trouble. You might not fully grasp the gravity of certain revelations the way you would if you’d followed the series from the beginning, but Castillo does a great job catching readers up on enough pertinent facts to keep things interesting without relying on a reader’s prior knowledge.
Chief of Police Kate Burkholder knows winter storms are just part of life in the midwest, but that doesn’t mean she’s thrilled by the enormous blizzard sweeping through the town of Painter’s Mill. Her workload is about to increase tenfold, and she’s not sure how her small police force will cope with everything involved in keeping the town running in the midst of a powerful storm. Fortunately for her, her team of employees are hard workers ready and willing to rise to any challenge, so when she is called out to a farm on the outskirts of Painter’s Mill, she feels reasonably confident leaving things in the capable hands of her second in command.
Adam Lengacher is a widower with three small children, still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his wife. Determined to do everything he can to keep his children happy, Adam suggests they take a sleigh ride before the weather gets too severe. While traversing some land not far from home, Adam comes upon a woman unconscious and alone in a car. She appears to have been injured in an accident of some sort, so Adam hurries to the home of a neighbor to summon help.
When Kate arrives on the scene, she is shocked to see the woman is none other than Gena Colorosa, a fellow police officer she hasn’t seen in ten years or more. Kate and Gena graduated from the police academy together, and were extremely close for several years until their friendship was ended by a bitter disagreement. Kate can’t imagine what would have caused Gina to be so far from home in the midst of a blizzard, but it’s obvious she’s in need of medical attention. She and Adam take her to Adam’s farmhouse, where Gina eventually regains consciousness and begs Kate to tell no-one she’s in town. Of course, Kate asks why Gina wants her whereabouts to be kept secret, but Gina’s answer is far from anything Kate ever expected to hear.
Now Kate finds herself embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse between Gina and those who seem to wish her harm, and Kate isn’t all that sure she can trust the story Gina has told her. Certain things just aren’t adding up, and with the roads becoming ever more hazardous as the snow continues to fall, Kate decides to keep Gina hidden at Adam’s until she and her boyfriend State Agent John Tomasetti can figure out what’s really going on.
There’s not much more I can tell you without veering into spoiler territory, but I can assure you that Kate and John have their work cut out for them as they try to sort out truth from lies. Gina has gotten involved with some extremely dangerous people, people who think nothing of traveling to Painter’s Mill to silence her once and for all, and if Kate appears to be a threat to them, they aren’t opposed to getting rid of her as well.
Castillo definitely knows how to craft a compelling mystery with all kinds of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, but up until now, this series has been about so much more than solving crimes. Kate is a deeply flawed heroine who hasn’t quite managed to put her tumultuous past behind her, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her grow in both personal and professional ways. Here, because of the nature of Gina’s plight, we don’t get to see as much of Kate’s personal journey. We do get a deeper understanding of her early days on the job, but I still found myself wanting a little more from Kate as she struggles to uncover the truth.
Kate is on her own throughout most of the book. John makes a few appearances, but we rarely see any of Kate’s co-workers, and I found myself really missing the dynamics of her team. Their rapport always brings a smile to my face, so I was a little let down by their absence. There’s something so lovely about the camaraderie that exists between the various characters, and that’s honestly a big part of what keeps me coming back for more.
In short, Outsider turned out to be a mixed bag. The mystery is solidly enjoyable, and I was fascinated by some of what I learned about the early part of Kate’s career, but this book lacks some of the charm I’ve come to expect from Castillo’s writing. If you don’t have a deep connection to this series or its characters, you’re likely to be satisfied by the things this book does well, but if you’re a long-time fan, Outsider isn’t likely to delight you the way previous installments did.