Review: A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo
By Janet WebbJuly 10, 2018
Read Janet Webb's review of A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the 10th Kate Burkholder thriller!
A deadly fire exposes the dark side of Amish life in A Gathering of Secrets, the 10th thriller in the New York Times bestselling Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo.
Chris Wolak’s introduction to her review of Sworn to Silence, the first in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series, perfectly captures Castillo’s appeal.
The story is set in the small fictional town of Painters Mill, Ohio, in the heart of Amish country. Although Castillo herself grew up in a small Ohio town, she didn’t know much about the Amish. Her initial interest has grown into annual research visits. She writes in her Introduction about how important it is to her to “depict the Amish culture correctly, without bias, and without stereotype.” Castillo’s straightforward use of details regarding Amish life set against the horrific crimes of a serial killer is startling.
Painters Mill, Ohio, where Kate Burkholder is chief of police, has somewhat of a Cabot’s Cove feel, with more than its share of unfortunate happenings. To an Englischer, crime in the Amish community seems unthinkable, the 1985 movie Witness notwithstanding. Also, the turmoil in Witness comes to the Amish from the outside world. But Linda Castillo knows that no community is immune from strife and struggles, as her opening epitaph to A Gathering of Secrets makes clear.
There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out.
—Shakespeare, HENRY V
The quiet starkness of Castillo’s descriptions is chilling. Why would a young girl be alone in a barn, fingering a coil of rope while her family is at church? She told her Mamm that “she’d been sick and throwing up half the night.” But that wasn’t true.
She didn’t let herself think about her family or what this would do to them as she uncoiled the rope. They wouldn’t understand, and that would hurt them. But there was no recourse. God had spoken to her, and she had listened. This was the only way she could keep her secret.
She ties the rope carefully around a rafter and then “slipped the loop over her head, careful not to skew her kapp.” It’s such a poignant notion, concern over her appearance in the face of anguish. Her last thoughts are of her family, her belief in the Lord, and the reason for her decision.
She didn’t think about what came next, but prayed it would be over quickly enough. Once it was done, she would be free.
“I forgive you,” she whispered.
Closing her eyes, she stepped forward and fell into space.
Six months later, Danny Gingerich, a young Amish man who’s reveling being on Rumspringa, sneaks out of his house late at night to meet a girl in the tack room of his family’s barn.
“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.
A lit candle, horse blankets, a bottle of wine, and two plastic glasses are arrayed in the tack room while “the smells of freshly oiled leather and kerosene and the lingering redolence of her perfume filled the air.” Everything in place except the girl. Danny sits down to wait but “then the door slammed hard enough to jangle the halters hanging on the wall,” trapping him. He smells smoke.
Fire burst into the room, a rabid, roaring beast that came down on top of him, tore into him with white-hot teeth. Smoke seared his face and neck and chest. The full force of his predicament slammed into him.
Police Chief Kate Burkholder hopes against hope that the burnt body discovered in the ashes of the Gingerich family’s barn is not their missing son Danny, but it’s him. Painstakingly, she reconstructs Danny’s life and relationships. It’s quite difficult because Danny is described as a paragon of virtues, beloved by his community and the Englisch alike. However, Kate grew up Amish and senses how much is being concealed from her. Her colleague Mona tells Kate that Emma Miller, the young girl that committed suicide six months ago, was pregnant—could there be a connection?
“Well, hell.” Even as I feel that jump of cop’s excitement, another part of me is saddened by the thought of a seventeen-year-old Amish girl believing death was a better alternative than life.
The dichotomy between painstaking police work and the mores of the Amish community gives A Gathering of Secrets great depth. The harder Kate works to gather and understand secrets, the opaquer the response from the Amish community. The #MeToo movement, with its overarching tenet to “Believe Women,” forms a backdrop to Kate’s inquiries, particularly when Mrs. Miller, reluctantly admitting that Emma was raped, whispers, “I told her God doesn’t let things like that happen to good girls.” Kate’s own painful past makes this mindset among the Amish almost unbearable. She thinks, “It’s one of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with the community to which I was born.”
Circling back to Wolak’s thoughts, “the great thing about coming to a series that’s in full-swing—you don’t have to wait a whole year for the next book!” Undoubtedly, fans of Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series are immersed in a massive reread before A Gathering of Secrets (10th in the series) is released.
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