A Chilling Tale in a Beautiful Place – 4.5 Stars
I am going to start this review with a confession. For reasons now lost to the ravages of time, I long had a prejudice against female authors. My impression was that books by female authors would be sappy, romantic, emotional or uninteresting. I went to university, got married and had two girls. Once the I got the aforementioned out of the way, I got back into reading and asked myself why it was I didn’t read books by female authors. I have to say I was a stupid man for holding a stupid prejudice. The majority of the best crime/mystery fiction I have read in the past several year have been written by women. I have discovered Tana French, Sharon Bolton, Chelsea Cain, Belinda Bauer, Denise Mina to name a few. These women have written intricate tales with deep and nuanced characters. They have avoided many stereotypes and have skillfully written male and female characters. Their female characters are at times tragic and broken while encapsulating strength and determination. To the other female authors whose wonderful books I will soon discover, please accept this as my sincere apology.
Now that my soul has been laid bare, on to this book.
Should you ever want to vacation in a peaceful and idyllic place, let me suggest Holmes County Ohio and the surrounding towns and cities. There you will find small towns with wholesome names such as Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek. The towns are a mix of modern and traditional with dollars stores and clothing shops run by “English” residents and quilt shops, bake shops and furniture stores run by local Amish residents. My wife and I have vacationed here several times and we look forward to returning again. Now imagine that a brutal killer is terrorizing this beautiful and peaceful place, abducting and killing young women, English and Amish alike. To me, this type of terror in this setting is far more horrific.
Kate Burkholder is the main character and police chief of the small town, Painter’s Mill. The town, like much of the surrounding area, is made up of two distinct cultures, the English and the Amish. Kate is a product of both cultures. Until her teens, she grew up and was raised Amish. After living through some horrific events in her teens, she left the Amish way of life and live the “English” life. Although a part of both worlds, she doesn’t belong to either but is tasked with keeping law and order in both. A woman is found dead with roman numerals carved into her stomach. This shocks the town and spreads panic as this appears to replicate a series of murders 16 years earlier. The old murders, dubbed “The Slautherhouse Killings” are personal to Kate and despite the fact everyone believes the old killer has returned, she believes someone else is at work. As a result, her judgment is impaired and she make a series of poor decisions. Murders continue to pile up until the chilling and gripping final confrontation.
Best of Both Worlds
I thought the setting and setup of the novel was fascinating. The novel was series of contrasts that flowed from beginning to end. Kate was a product of two cultures, neither of which truly accepted her. This made her both compelling and relatable. Who hasn’t felt as if they didn’t fit in at some point in their life. The author expertly weaves this theme throughout the story while providing interesting and telling insights into both cultures.
In my opinion, the most interesting characters are those that have elements of strength and fragility. While Kate is a strong character, she is haunted by the events in her past. These events lead her to make decisions that the reader knows are wrong, misguided or selfish. While she retains a strong sense of morality from her Amish upbringing, he past has allowed her to justify bad behavior. Without a doubt, Kate Burkholder is one of the most interesting main characters I have read in a very long time.
Kate is not the only broken characters. Early in the novel we are introduced to John Tomasetti another officer of the law with a recent past as an avenging angel. There are many ways to make your character seem rough around the edges, troubled, tortured or broken. The author chose to use adult language to punctuate his lack of care for the world. It got to the point that I was simply annoyed and put off with the language. If he shows up in future novels, I hope he is forced to spend a few months with an Amish family and he is shamed into cleaning up his mouth. Overall, the adult language was excessive and detracted from the rating.
I listened to the audiobook version of this novel. In this case, the narrator impacted on the overall rating. For the first quarter of the book I found her narration to be unappealing and lacking in emotion. The voice she used for John Tomasetti was a bit painful. She attempted a deep gruff voice that came off as more grating. Fortunately, she came into her own as the story progressed and her narration in the final confrontation was stunning and was dripping with emotion. It made for a powerful scene. Despite a rough start and a bad voice for one character, her narration was a 4 of 5.
I should note that the subject matter is dark. If you see that this is set amongst the Amish and are expecting a “cozy mystery” in the like of some book like “A quilting circle murder”, you will be very disappointed. There is a dark edge to our killer that would fit right into an S.J. Bolton novel. This is an excellent book and about as close to five stars as I can get without going the whole way. If you like tense thrillers with a dark antagonist, this book is for you.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 3.5
While there is no graphic sex, there is significant discussion of sex as related to assaults. Victims are sexually assaulted and there is some discussion on how sexual assault and torture were related. There is a scene where there is an attempted sexual assault that is moderately graphic. There is sexual tension between some characters and there is some “lead up” to sex and sex is ultimately implied.
Language – 4.5
As stated above, I took some issue with the language in the book. There was the entire gambit of language moderate to high use of mild obscenities, scatological terms and religious exclamations. There was also moderately high use of the f-word. This book is not suitable for younger readers.
Violence – 4
As with most crime thrillers, violence is an integral part of the story. I gave this a 4 as most of the violence inferred through the examination of the victims bodies and was, for the most part, moderately graphic. The final confrontation is quite graphic and will be disturbing for some readers. Readers who are not comfortable with sex crimes should avoid this novel.