Book Review: Fallen by Linda Castillo
By Janet WebbJuly 16, 2021
Young men and women who leave their Amish communities to seek a new life among the English do not always find happiness even though sometimes it’s cruel circumstances in their childhood that necessitate a fresh start. Such was the case with Rachael Schwartz. Why did she come back years later to the fictional town of Painters Mill, Ohio, only to be viciously battered to death in her motel room? Chief of Police Kate Burkholder’s job is to find Rachael’s killer(s) and bring them to justice. A responsibility made more heartbreaking by her personal memories of the young girl she once babysat: “Kate remembers Rachael as the only girl who was as bad at being Amish as Kate was―and those parallels dog her.”
After Rachael left the Plain life, she wrote a tell-all book about her past. Chief Burkholder needs to read it so she visits Beerman’s Books, where Barbara Beerman greets her by name.
“I’m looking for the book written by Rachael Schwartz,” I tell her.
“Ah. You and everyone else. I heard about the murder. Do you guys know who did it yet?”
“We’re working on it.”
She nods. “Well, we have her book.” She pushes herself to her feet and rounds the counter. “The tourists love it so much we have a tough time keeping it in stock.”
“Have you read it?” I ask.
“The day it was released. Talk about tell-all. Rachael Schwartz didn’t pull any punches.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Apparently, she wasn’t fond of her brethren.”
“Did she name names?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “There’s an author note in the beginning of the book saying the names were changed to ‘protect’ the identities of people depicted.”
What a title: AMISH NIGHTMARE: How I Escaped the Clutches of Righteousness. Chief Burkholder has her work cut out—to put real names and faces to the anonymous righteous folk Rachael named in her tell-all. And to separate the wheat from the chaff because it’s possible that Rachael exaggerated in her memoir. Kate remembers the young Rachael as adventurous, rebellious, saucy, and charming but ultimately troubled; a girl who fought the constraints of her Amish upbringing.
Attending Rachel’s autopsy is not only Kate’s introduction to the victim but also a way to get “inside the mind of a killer.” Even for Doc Coblentz, the stand-in coroner who has examined countless corpses, Rachael’s mutilated and battered body stands out.
The doctor sighs. “I’ve seen a lot of injuries, a lot of deaths. Motor vehicle accidents. Farming mishaps. You name it. This woman suffered a tremendous amount of physical injury.”
I resist the urge to shudder. “Says something about the killer,” I say.
“That’s your forte, not mine. Thank God for that.”
It never gets easy for Kate, looking down at a dead body, but in this case, it’s the little things that churn her up. She glances at Rachael’s undamaged bare feet: “It’s the pink polish on the toenails that turns me inside out and rouses the stir of outrage.” Much like J.D. Robb’s stalwart Eve Dallas, Kate Burkholder never loses sight of the humanity of her victim. Adding even more insult to the mortal injuries Rachel suffered, Doc tells Kate that the beating most likely continued after Rachael’s death. Who hated Rachael that much? Kate suspects that it was unresolved events in Rachael’s teenage years that have culminated in her murder. What happened during Rachel’s rumspringa?
“Rumspringa” is the Deitsh word for “running around.” It’s the time in a young Amish person’s life when they have the opportunity to experience the world without all those Amish rules, usually right before they become baptized and join the church.
Kate interviews everyone connected to Rachael—her oldest childhood friend, the local bishop (a conversation which leads to Kate’s brother Jacob), and a policeman with a questionable reputation. She tracks down Rachael’s sexual partners and grills Andrea Matson, Rachael’s roommate and business partner for insights into the woman Rachael became in Cleveland. Kate has been tipped off to Rachael’s lifestyle by her significant other and police colleague John Tomasetti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“One more thing that may or may not be related to any of this. It appears Rachael Schwartz and Andrea Matson lived above their means. I checked the books on the restaurant they own, and they barely make a profit. And yet they live in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the city.”
“So where are they getting their money?”
“Still digging,” he says. “Anything new on your end?”
“Spinning my wheels mostly.”
Another act of inexplicable violence occurs. Kate embraces the universal dictum, “follow the money,” and discovers that Rachael financed her lavish lifestyle by blackmail. One step leads to another—who’s tired of paying blackmail or is perhaps petrified of their secrets being exposed?
Fallen is not for the faint of heart. There is a brutal killing and sordid secrets: Kate herself may be in danger. The thirteenth Kate Burkholder mystery is another unputdownable Amish-set story. Brava Linda Castillo.