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Black Static


The Late Review: Pray for Silence

9th Nov, 2022

Author: Peter Tennant

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2010's Pray for Silence (Macmillan tpb) is the second novel in Linda Castillo's series chronicling the adventures of Chief of Police Kate Burkhalter, set in the small Ohio town of Painters Mill where a significant proportion of the population are Amish. Kate herself was once Amish, though she decided to leave that life when personal tragedy struck, so when an Amish family of seven are slaughtered in their isolated home it cuts close to the bone. In particular the horrors visited on daughter Mary strike at the heart of all Kate feels is good in the world. With help from Agent John Tomasetti, a former (and possibly still) lover and a man with problems of his own, she sets out to solve the crime, but they are all at sea until Mary's journal turns up, revealing the life she kept secret from her family and the dangers it exposed her to.

This is pretty much a by the numbers police procedural thriller, with the Amish element making it stand out from the crowd. The portrayal of the Amish and their lifestyle borders on the idyllic, which makes what happens to Mary and her family all the more horrific. We can't help but be repelled by the way in which her innocence is taken advantage of, with echoes of what happened in Kate's own past, though she was never so naïve. The violence is terrible, but only the tip of the iceberg.

Burkhalter is an intriguing character, somebody who has depths that you sense the author is yet to explore. Her lapses of temper, as when dealing with hate crime against the Amish, and willingness to dole out her own brand of justice, make the character someone it is easy for the reader to identify with. Similarly the other police officers - Skid, Pickles, Glock, and TJ - are well drawn, each with their own distinguishing characteristics, united by their devotion to the job and to Kate, with the support staff of Mona and the other temps manning phone lines adding yet more verisimilitude.

The way in which the case develops is compelling, holding reader attention from the very start as we closely follow each step in the ongoing investigation. Castillo writes well and doesn't shy away from describing the bad stuff, doing so in a way that brings the ugliness of sexual violence and abuse home to the reader while avoiding any hint of the gratuitous. My one niggle has to do with Tomasetti, who seems a bit of an arsehole at times, making Kate's attraction to him cause you to question her judgement. It's a minor point though, and I guess most of us have been involved with one arsehole or another over the years. Overall I found Pray for Silence a fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable thriller, with just enough going for it in the originality stakes to make the book appealingly different.

As the Burkhalter series has now reached fourteen volumes I guess other readers agreed with me, though I have to wonder how a small town like Painters Mill supports so many crimes that are novel worthy.




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