Book Review: Outsider by Linda Castillo
By Janet WebbJuly 6, 2020
Outsider is the twelfth Kate Burkholder Amish-set mystery. Linda Castillo published Sworn to Silence in 2009: since then the series has gone from strength to strength. Readers who are curious about Kate’s early police career will relish Outsider.
A wicked snowstorm in Painters Mill, Ohio doesn’t deter Amish widower Adam Lengacher from taking his rambunctious children for a sleigh ride. It’s been two years since his wife Leah died in childbirth but Samuel, 8, Lizzie, “barely seven,” and Annie, 5, keep Adam busy.
“Samuel, help your sisters into the shlay,” Adam said.
As the children boarded, Adam looked around, assessing the weather. It snowed most of the night, and it was still falling at a good clip.
The inclement weather is the third rail of Outsider. Adam knows a blizzard is on its way, but he feels the weight on his shoulders lift when he’s outside with his laughing children: “The trees and branches sparkled white.” When the temperature drops, Adam makes a detour to the county road. They spot “the hump of a vehicle in the ditch,” and Sammy thinks it’s an Englischer car. It’s a mess, cracked windshield, deployed airbag, and disturbingly, blood: “Too much, a little voice whispered.” Adam sees six bullet holes in the rear window—what’s going on? He finds a woman half-frozen in the snow. She’s so rude, saying, “Get the fuck away from me.”
“Don’t be afraid.” Raising his hands, he sat back on his haunches. “I’m going to help you.”
“Back off.” She raised her left hand as if to fend him off. “I mean it.”
“You were in an accident,” he told her. “You’re bleeding. You need a doctor.”
She pulls a gun on Adam before she collapses: “I’m spent.” Adam tries one last time to help.
“Get Kate Burkholder,” she ground out. “I’m a cop. Get her.”
Adam knew the name. He’d known Katie Burkholder most of his life. How did this stranger know her? This was not the time to question her. She was injured and weak.
We’ve seen this scenario before, albeit with more clement weather but Outsider is no Witness. All the injured woman has in common with Harrison Ford’s John Book is that she’s “a big city cop who knows too much.” Dispatch tells Kate that Adam Lengacher has an injured woman in his house who’s asking for her. Kate and Adam were childhood friends.
Those carefree days didn’t last and we lost touch as we entered our teen years. Adam married and started a family. I fell out of favor with my Amish brethren and eventually left the fold, trading Painters Mill for the big-city lights of Columbus.
If Adam wasn’t Amish, Kate would question why he brought an injured, gun-toting woman into his home. But Amish folk “don’t leave anyone, including an outsider, to the elements, especially if they’re hurt.” It’s been ten years, but Kate recognizes Gina Colorosa right away. Gina got her into law enforcement.
Her voice is rougher than I remember. Weak despite the echo of the old attitude I used to admire back when I was too young, too naïve, to know better. I don’t know what to say to her. Or how to feel. I can’t stop looking at her. I can’t believe she’s here in Painters Mill. That we didn’t part on good terms adds an uncomfortable dimension to all of it.
What’s Gina doing in Painters Mill and what is she keeping from Kate? Gina has been on the Columbus vice unit for years: “a lot of young cops clamored to be part of it, especially the adrenaline junkies.” Then she became disillusioned.
Knowing there’s more to all of this than she’s telling me, I rise and stalk to the window, look out at the whiteout conditions beyond. “You looked the other way.”
“Pretty much. I made some bad choices.”
“Bad choices? What is that, Gina? Secret code for your letting a bunch of dirty cops continue being dirty cops?”
No wonder Gina refused medical help: her fellow-cops are after her. Kate finds an Amish pseudo-vet to patch her up but she’s too weak to leave. The blizzard maroons Kate so the two cops are stuck. Kate is worried Gina may endanger Adam and his family. There’s a warrant out on her: is Kate harboring a fugitive?
Gina wants immunity before she’ll spill the goods on the criminals hiding behind a blue shield but state agent John Tomasetti, Kate’s significant other, is skeptical, as is Kate. Underpinning Kate’s doubts are the memories of why she left Columbus. The girls had made plans to spend a long weekend by the shores of Lake Erie. Kate got off work early: she tracked down her friend in a garage and found her surrounded by other cops (plus beat-up perps). Everything felt off: “when I looked at Gina, her eyes skittered away from mine.” An older cop tells Kate to take off.
“See you around.” Taking a final look at Gina, I turned and started for the door.
We never made it to the lake that weekend. When my shift ended, I went home, packed my things, and moved out. It was one of the most painful things I’d ever had to do, but I realized she wasn’t going to change.
Is Gina playing Kate and John? “How long has the vice unit been on the take?” The more Kate learns, the more she realizes the tainted cops won’t stop until they find Gina. In the words of Toby Keith, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then, I wish I could start this whole thing over again,” but Kate can’t forget that Gina crossed the line. The theme of police corruption could scarcely be more topical. It’s complicated but it explains why Kate fled Columbus in favor of policing in a small rural community.
Police work coexists with Amish mores and a working farm in a believable way. When John Tomasetti brings pizza and Pepsi to the snowed-in group, the delight of the children is palpable.
The words and actions of Adam are my takeaway from Outsider: Gina apologizes for her intrusion into his life.
“You saved my life. You opened your home to me.”
“You were lost and cold and hurt,” he tells her.
“The circumstances were questionable,” she admits, “and yet you stepped in anyway. Thank you.”
“The only time to look down on your neighbor is when you’re bending over to help them.”
Words to live by. Fans of police chief Kate Burkholder will have a deeper understanding of her past and her journey back to the countryside of her youth after reading Outsider. Neither the Amish nor the Englisch are immune to sorrow and pain but there’s a peace and righteousness to the Amish community that softens the harshness of modernity.