Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Sworn To Silence" by Linda Castillo

Police Chief Kate Burkholder is thrust into a murder investigation in which women are showing up brutally murdered, numbers carved into their stomachs. They are identical to murders from sixteen years ago. Kate is plagued by the question posed by about 90% of crime thrillers these days - same killer or a copycat? Kate is inclined to believe the latter, as she shot and killed the murderer after he attacked and raped her when she was a teenager - and still Amish. When she is too slow to call in outside help, she also gets caught up in police and council politics, all while the killer continues on his spree.

There's a lot actually working against "Sworn To Silence", so I'm surprised I didn't hate it. For one, we have the utterly unoriginal and predictable storyline. Then we have the Amish angle (Kate used to be Amish, but left the lifestyle behind after rumspringa). I've read a couple of books with Amish characters, and they tend to be fairly dull, with the author at pains to describe how honest, hard-working and kind they are. Finally, a little research showed that Linda Castillo is usually a romance/suspense writer. Fears of Lisa Jackson-style inanity rose up inside of me. However, "Sworn To Silence" works in spite of itself. Firstly, while a romance does develop between Kate and FBI Special Agent John Tomasetti, it doesn't occur until well into the book, and the two thankfully don't spend too much time pining over each other. Secondly, while the Amish are portrayed as honest, hard-working and kind (yeah, that's why they shun family members who abandon the faith), we're not beaten over the head with it. Lastly, despite an extremely over-familiar plot, with each of the crime genre elements neatly and predictably covered, the pacing is solid and sometimes exciting. These days, I'm happy simply if the book isn't boring. Castillo delivers a police procedural that appears accurate but doesn't get bogged down in the mundane details.

However, it does have negative points. In particular, the whole book is based on Kate's belief that the original killer is dead, as she shot him in self defence. It's mentioned that the killings stopped after her attack, but that's it. Kate and her family never discovered any momentos from the murders, never heard a confession....nothing. No solid, concrete proof that the man she killed was really a serial killer and not an opportunistic rapist. A pretty naive belief for somebody who's SUPPOSED TO BE A POLICE CHIEF!!! Much time is wasted on this highly obvious red herring and it hurts the novel a great deal. Similarly, the identity of the killer is poorly handled. Tomasetti gives a profile and just pages later a character is described as having many of those characteristics. Was it even supposed to be a surprise?

"Sworn To Silence" really shouldn't get a positive review. A stunning lack of originality and a groan-inducingly obvious red herring are not good ingredients for a solid, memorable thriller. But as I said, the real crime for any crime thriller is to be boring. This certainly isn't. It moves quickly and capably and crime readers will enjoy it, even if they can predict every that happens.

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