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Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series is one of my favorites for a couple of reasons. One is that it is set near my hometown. But the primary reason is the manner in which Castillo manages to bring new plots, mysteries, twists and turns to a relatively small area --- the fictional Amish community of Painters Mill, Ohio, in very real Holmes County --- while inserting (as opposed to forcing) bits and pieces of Amish life into the narrative. OUTSIDER gives longtime readers of this popular series the added bonus of some extensive information regarding Kate’s life before she returned to Painters Mill to join their police force.

In short order, the book introduces Gina Colorosa, a member of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department vice squad. It becomes quite clear that Gina is in huge trouble. She is wounded in an ambush at her home and immediately flees Columbus, heading for Holmes County and to the only person she can trust: Kate, her former best friend, who joined the police department with her several years ago.

"Fans of the series and newbies looking for a change of scenery will find much to love here and should partake without hesitation."

Gina makes it to the outskirts of Painters Mill before a combination of blood loss and a raging snowstorm causes her to crash her car into a fence. She is found by Adam Lengacher, an Amish widower, along with his son and two daughters. Adam comes to her aid, following the Amish practice of immediately and reflexively helping someone in need. Gina is a bit rough around the edges, even under the best of circumstances, and her initial interactions with the Lengachers are worth the price of admission to the book all by themselves.

Gina makes it clear that she will speak only with Kate, who of course is extremely surprised to see her former friend. She tells Kate that she is being hunted by a rogue police unit in the vice squad. Her subsequent story of why leads Kate to reminisce internally about how she came to join the department, why her friendship with Gina ended, and her decision to leave Columbus.

Meanwhile, Gina’s pursuers slowly follow a few sparse clues that lead them to Painters Mill, a place that is ill-prepared for the endgame they have planned. This, of course, places Adam and his children at risk, even as Adam himself is in danger of succumbing to his attraction to Gina, which would violate the strict tenets of his culture and faith. The last half of the book races toward a cringe-inducing conclusion that contains a number of surprises, including a resolution of a long-range issue that has been percolating over the course of the last several installments of the series.

Of course, you will be forgiven if you infer that OUTSIDER bears some similarities to the classic film Witness in spots. Castillo, though, takes the book in a few different directions while adding several twists and turns to the plot, making the ending anything but preordained. Fans of the series and newbies looking for a change of scenery will find much to love here and should partake without hesitation.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 17, 2020

by Linda Castillo

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250796296
  • ISBN-13: 9781250796295