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Among the Wicked: A Kate Burkholder Novel


Among the Wicked: A Kate Burkholder Novel

It is always interesting when an author takes a long-running series and changes things up a bit. Linda Castillo has done just that, and quite successfully, with AMONG THE WICKED, the newly published installment in her Kate Burkholder series.

Kate Burkholder is the chief of the “English” police in the semi-fictional township of Painters Mill, Ohio, the population of which is largely comprised of an Amish community. The interesting hook to the series --- one that never gets old --- is that Burkholder was raised in that community herself before leaving it, and continues to have familial ties of a sort to it. This has provided grist for stories across several novels in which Burkholder’s knowledge of Amish culture has been of value in solving major crimes. The books have been of particular interest to those of us who 1) have lived near Amish communities for part or most of our lives, and 2) hold the belief that small towns are the perfect place to hide bad deeds. Castillo, in exploring both aspects, never disappoints. In AMONG THE WICKED, she moves Burkholder and the action out of the chief’s “comfort zone” of Painters Mill. The result is her best novel to date.

"[Castillo] moves Burkholder and the action out of the chief’s 'comfort zone' of Painters Mill. The result is her best novel to date."

The book opens with an enigmatic prologue before things shift to Painters Mill, where Burkholder receives an unscheduled visit from a pair of New York law enforcement officers. The dead body of a troubled teenage girl from an isolated, upstate New York Amish community near Roaring Springs has been discovered. While the cause of her death is undetermined, the presence of street drugs in her system as well as other factors indicate that she might have been the victim of foul play. State and local police have also received anonymous --- and troubling --- information concerning various goings-on, particularly child abuse, in the Amish community there, which is led by a charismatic but extremely strict leader (even by Amish standards) named Eli Schrock.

The New York officers want Burkholder to assist them in their investigation by going into the community in an undercover capacity. The request comes not only as the result of Burkholder’s reputation, but also because of a unique qualification: She is the only police officer in the United States they could find who speaks Pennsylvania Dutch. John Tomasetti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Burkholder’s down-low love interest, doesn’t want her to go, but she accedes to the request due to the possibility that children may be in a dangerous situation. She accordingly makes a snowy trip to Roaring Springs, where she establishes an identity as a widowed and childless Amish woman who is seeking to join Schrock’s community.

Burkholder makes an almost seamless transition from police chief to Amish housewife, joining into the initially welcoming community and attempting to acquire information. Her efforts regarding the latter, however, quickly meet with a stone wall that she attempts to breach, brick by brick. A meeting with Schrock himself all but confirms her suspicion that something is not right while putting her directly on his radar screen. What Burkholder --- isolated and out on a very dangerous limb --- discovers goes far beyond the death of one girl, tragic as that may be. Before AMONG THE WICKED is over, she finds herself in terrible danger, the type that she may not walk away from intact --- or at all.

This series is very accessible from book to book or for newcomers. Castillo takes pains to slip Burkholder’s backstory early and quickly into the proceedings of each installment, which serves as a reminder to veteran readers and an introduction to new ones. And while the latest books build on the old --- particularly with respect to Burkholder’s relationship with Tomasetti --- readers can easily begin their acquaintance with Burkholder at any point in the series. If you’re unfamiliar with the Painters Mill chief of police, AMONG THE WICKED is an impressive place to start.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 15, 2016

Among the Wicked: A Kate Burkholder Novel
by Linda Castillo

  • Publication Date: June 27, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250130247
  • ISBN-13: 9781250130242