Review: Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

Down a Dark Road

Linda Castillo

Kate Burkholder Series

July 11, 2017

In Down a Dark Road, the ninth thriller in Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series, a convicted murderer is on the run and Chief of Police Burkholder must catch him before he strikes again.

Take a visual tour of Down a Dark Road with GIFnotes!

Nine books into the Kate Burkholder series and Linda Castillo’s ability to thrill readers while also breaking our hearts continues unabated. Formerly Amish, Kate is now chief of police of Painters Mill, the small town she grew up near. When she gets a notification that a dangerous criminal has escaped from prison and could possibly be heading her way, she doesn’t pay it more mind than usual—until she sees the convict’s name.

Joseph King is an Amish man convicted of murdering his pretty young wife, Naomi, while their five children slept in nearby bedrooms. Though he swore his innocence, his prior convictions for drug possession and domestic violence combined with the overwhelming physical evidence and his lack of an alibi made a guilty verdict almost inevitable. Not even his Amish neighbors or bishop believed in his innocence. While the murder happened outside Kate’s jurisdiction, his five children now live close to Painters Mill, having been adopted by their aunt and uncle who are residents of her county. Authorities suspect that an escaped Joseph will come looking for his kids.

More personally for Kate, she and Joseph had been neighbors growing up. The preadolescent Kate hero-worshipped the older boy until a tragic accident claimed the life of his father. He and the rest of his family moved away soon after, leaving behind a heartbroken Kate.

As an adult and the chief of police of a neighboring county, Kate paid some attention to his trial and subsequent conviction but had more immediate concerns to worry about than a decades-old crush. Now, she finds herself face to face with the case and with Joseph once more when he indeed returns to Painters Mill. But he isn’t just seeking reunion with his kids—he also wants Kate to help him prove that someone else murdered his wife.

Kate is reluctant to get involved, but the more she learns about the case, the more deeply entangled she becomes. According to everyone who knew him, Joseph was a bitter man who had allowed his father’s death to bring forth a darkness from within him. As she digs further, however, she discovers that very little is as it seems. Worse, her investigations are complicated by the tenuous relationship the Amish she interviews have with what they call “Englischer” law, particularly when it comes to matters of substance abuse and domestic violence:

If I didn’t understand the Amish mind-set so well, I might’ve experienced a moment of indignation. But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this happen; I’m not surprised. In their quest to remain separate from the rest of the world, some Amish will stick their heads in the sand. They learn the hard way that ignorance is no protection from the law.

Ms. Castillo has an illuminating way of exploring how Amish and mainstream culture intersect and how that complicates criminal investigations, a skill she’s put to good effect throughout this excellent series. She writes with compassion, focusing especially on victims who fall through the cracks where neither Amish nor mainstream society can provide a safety net. I especially appreciate the way she forces readers to reassess their assumptions as to innocence and trust. And wow, can she write a thrilling encounter! The climax near the end was one of my favorites of hers, but I also really enjoyed this scene from earlier in the book, when Kate realizes that a hostage situation has gone horribly wrong:

Shock sweeps through me when I spot two SWAT officers moving toward the house through the trees.

And I know.

The rest of the world falls away. I feel as if I’ve been plunged into a sealed bottle from which all the air has been sucked. There’s no sound or light, just the thrum of my heart, the hiss of my breaths tearing from my throat, and the knowledge that someone has been killed.

Down A Dark Road is another compelling novel in Ms. Castillo’s ongoing body of work and probably my second favorite after the shocking twist of Her Last Breath. As always, we learn more of Kate’s fascinating past, even as she sets out to overcome not only the dangers of her latest case but also the perils of local politics. Fortunately, she’s got a great supporting cast, and I’m looking forward to spending time with all of them again in the next novel in this terrific series.

Read an excerpt from Down a Dark Road!

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