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For over a decade, Linda Castillo has set her highly readable Kate Burkholder series in the fictional town of Painters Mill, Ohio, which is located in the very real Holmes County (the Amish community to my northeast). On occasion --- usually scheduled around the publication of Castillo’s latest novel --- I will make a trip up there to attempt to trace the events of the book. Is the series still that compelling? Absolutely, and maybe even more so than when it started.

Chief of Police Kate Burkholder was brought up in Painters Mail but left when she turned 18. Tom Wolfe may have said, “You can’t go home again,” but Dion DiMucci responded, “Oh, yeah? Try to leave.” They were both right, as Castillo, through her protagonist, has noted repeatedly. The tension created by Kate’s return in a very different role, touching the heart of the unchanged community, has provided a great deal of grist for Castillo’s story mill.

"This 13th entry demonstrates that Castillo is more than capable of extracting new stories from a deceptively but deeply complex culture that is as intricate as it is misunderstood."

FALLEN successfully pushes the envelope of the series just a bit. Kate is called to the scene of what is an all-but-certain homicide in a Painters Mill motel room. The victim has been brutally beaten, but she recognizes her almost immediately: Rachael Schwartz, whom she used to babysit. Even at a young age, Rachael’s reputation eventually put her into conflict with the quiet and sedate environs and practices of the Amish community. Her life paralleled Kate’s in many ways, including leaving Painters Mill as soon as she could. Kate had not heard anything about Rachael in over a decade, and her calamitous and tragic return is a mystery that echoes far beyond her murder.

Kate soon learns that no one, not even Rachael’s parents, knew that she was in Painters Mill, so her reason for being in that motel room at that time is unknown. The only clue is a telephone number on a slip of paper. It takes Kate outside of --- though not far from --- Painters Mill, and while information is not exactly readily forthcoming, it still moves her off of dead center. However, it becomes clear all too quickly that someone does not want this case investigated, and Kate is placing herself in danger from a surprising source as she gets closer to finding out why the community’s prodigal daughter came back.

John Tomasetti, Kate’s love interest who also is an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, is there to help and to bring the might and majesty of state law enforcement to the investigation. But even he may not have the horses to provide Kate with the assistance she needs.

I will confess that I initially wondered how long Castillo could keep this series fresh and interesting, given the somewhat small geographical area that provides its setting and the relative lack of crime within the Amish community. Fortunately, it appears that she will be able to maintain the high standards of these books for as long as she wishes. This 13th entry demonstrates that Castillo is more than capable of extracting new stories from a deceptively but deeply complex culture that is as intricate as it is misunderstood. Also, the construction of the series makes it easy for newcomers to jump in at any point while urging fans to keep returning. FALLEN provides plenty for both camps.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 16, 2021

by Linda Castillo

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 125014292X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250142924