The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo (4 out of 5)
The newest installment in the Kate Burkholder mystery series finds Kate Burkholder investigating a series of grisly murders in Painters Mill. First, a prominent member of the town ends up dead, shot and hung in a barn, made to look like a suicide. There’s a peg doll, an Amish staple, crammed down his throat. A second and third murder follow, much in the same fashion. Grisly, vengeful, and with that peg doll crammed down the throat or in one of the fatal wounds of the victims. On the bottom of these wooden dolls are the words Hochstetler Family. Something jogs Kate’s memory. Thirty five years ago (on the same day the first victim is discovered), the Hochstetler family suffered a haunting tragedy. The family home and business was robbed; the father, Willis, was shot dead. The house goes up in flames, killing the four small children inside. The mother is taken by the robbers, never to be seen again. The only survivor of this was Billy, the young boy who escapes the family home after his father’s murder to try to save his mother from the evildoers, to no avail. Billy comes back and the house is on fire with his siblings and the body of his dead father inside. He can’t rescue any of them. Billy has his own arc in this story. The fact that it’s exactly the 35th anniversary of that horrible night, combined with the dolls bearing the name of the dead family, makes Kate connect the dots, and she realizes the the victims must have somehow been involved with that tragedy.
The story progresses when Kate finds out the web of deceit in the town runs uglier and further south than she had previously thought. In the middle of all of this, Kate’s lover John Tomasetti finds out that one of the men who murdered his wife and children years ago, has been sprung free on a technicality, so he’s going through his own personal hell resurfacing. Instead of pulling them together, it drives a wedge between the lovers, at a time when they seriously need one another. Kate’s digging gets deeper and she uncovers the fourth and fifth players in the Hochstetler tragedy, one of whom is a councilman and the other a well-respected pastor in Painters Mill. Interrogations are conducted, and Kate and her small police force figure out a plan to get their answers. They put the pastor under “house arrest” to lure out the killer, and get way more than they bargained for. Things moved steadily toward an end that no one sees coming. It’s stunning, and as usual, Linda Castillo doesn’t let the reader down.
This reader found a few things that she can nitpick, however. The angle of the wooden dolls on the bodies of every single victim is never completely explained. That irritates me. If the sociopath responsible is trying to seek her vengeance and this is some sort of calling card, then they had to realize that the cops were eventually going to put those pieces together. The other thing that bugged me was the lack of any real Tomasetti storyline in here. There are a very few chapters where you feel as if he’s hugging the line between instability and violence again, but then, after he confronts the louse and then sets the wheels in motion to ensure that eventually justice is served (and it is, and I enjoyed the way Castillo wrote this), not much is mentioned of his anguish. Unless it’s Kate and it’s a relationship hurdle to throw between them, it’s sort of there and then gone. I had an issue with that because Tomasetti has had his share of obstacles in his past that he’s overcome, and that anger issue was a big component of the puzzle piece that was his and Kate’s relationship. I think the problem, my friends, is that I’m a little bit in love with this character. Yes, I’m in love with a fictional character, so I’m a little nonplussed that I didn’t get a lot of a chance to view him in the book. I hope to see more Tomasetti in Castillo’s next book. Overall, though, I can’t argue with the fact that every single book in the series never fails to live up to the promise that comes along with Linda Castillo’s name being attached to it. I love Amish books, I love the lifestyle, and I love a great msytery with great, identifiable characters and situations. You cannot go wrong with any of Linda Castillo’s novels in this series. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted.