You see it on television and read about it in the newspaper. You shake your head sadly as you reach for your morning coffee. “What’s the world coming too,” you wonder as you blow across the coffee cup and take a sip.
You just can’t imagine anything like “that” happening to you or any of your neighbors.
And yet, “it” happens all the time, with frightening regularity. “It’s” happening to wealthy families in nice neighborhoods and poor families in slums.
Every year, young children and teenagers are abducted from their homes and communities, and more often than not, are never seen alive again.
Imagine how you’d feel if your precious child vanished without a trace. Allow yourself to feel the stomach-churning sensation of fear twisting your guts inside out. Experience the sense of bewilderment when you realize that your prayers for their safe return may not be answered.
Now imagine your community being a close-knit closed entity that is naturally suspicious of all outsiders. This is a community where nothing unusual ever happens.
You and your neighbors are used to handling situations “in-house” and discourage any interaction with strangers, especially law enforcement.
But, there is evil lurking here in this quite, closed off place.
And now, you and your neighbors are forced to seek help from the “hated” outsiders you dislike and mistrust.
This is the chilling scenario presented to us by Linda Castillo, in her most recent novel, “Gone Missing”. One by one, teenagers, mostly girls, are disappearing from Ohio’s Amish community.
And now, the “English” police, lead by Ex-Amish, and Chief of Painter’s Mill police department Kate Burkholder are here, with their annoying, invasive questions.
She is accompanied by her partner/friend (and much more), John Tomasetti who is as tough and no-nonsense as they come.
As much as the parents try to deny it, all these missing young people have one thing in common: disenchantment with the “plain” life of the Amish which has nurtured them since childhood.
I suppose you can’t blame the parents.
Assume for a moment you are 16 year old Bonnie Fisher’s parents. You are Amish, and your daughter has been missing for 2 months. Your natural suspicion towards outside authority is intensified by fear and frustration.
And here comes this young woman chief of police who has been excommunicated from your church. She and her partner dare to ask questions you thought you’d already answered before.
You deny that Bonnie has any family issues. There have been no arguments or fights. You grow very uncomfortable when asked about possible boyfriends.
Your hostile attitude is understandable when viewed in the harsh light of reality. The fact is Bonnie’s feelings about Amish life were very different from yours.
She had a secret boyfriend. In fact, she had more than one sexual partner. And to make matters worse, she was pregnant and unsure who the father was.
You don’t understand how your daughter would involve herself in such activities. She behaved like one of the “English.” And now, she’s gone missing.
Annie King was strong-willed, restless, and 15 years old. Her “English” boyfriend has a criminal record. He says the “plain” life was too restrictive for Annie. She was known to ride around in cars, smoking cigarettes, and using a cell phone. She’s been missing for at least 36 hours.
Sadie Miller, also 15, is bright, confident, and defiant. She is a gifted child, who is interested in needlepoint, art, music and travel. She has dreams of going off to college.
Her best friend stated that Sadie smoked, cussed, and was constantly talking about leaving. She went missing while Kate and Tomasetti were investigating the other disappearances.
Noah Mast is an 18 year old male Amish who disappeared 9 years ago. The local police assumed he was a runaway. He liked to drink and party with the ladies.
All these young people disappeared at a time when they were ready for a serious life change. This left them impressionable to outside influences.
Could one of those “influences” be a kidnapper and a murderer?
Or, as Levi King bemoaned while viewing the remains of his precious Annie: “Who could do this terrible thing?”
32 year old Gideon Stoltzfus is unmarried, ex-Amish with a “past.”
Today, he aids Amish young people escape the “plain” life by funneling them through an “underground railroad” of sorts. He’s always available, helpful, and understanding. He’s just the kind of “nice” guy that an impressionable, trusting kid might turn to in time of crisis.
After the interview, Tomasetti quips, “…either a damn good liar or he’s telling the truth.”
On the other hand, Stacy Karns is not a good liar! The 44 year old African-American is a successful, self-employed photographer.
Karns has earned his wealth the old-fashioned way. He creates candid, un-posed images of Amish young people. It’s a neat trick since the Amish do not like having their likeness captured on film.
Mr. Karns also has a police record. He denies ever meeting or photographing Annie King. The subject of a photograph found in Stacy Karn’s home is Annie King.
I was in no way bored by this murder book. Castillo manages to cram a lot of interesting stuff and characters into a relatively “small” book.
I found the final confrontation between Kate and the killer to be very suspenseful. Her bullheadedness and dedication to duty almost gets her killed.
With her knowledge of Amish traditions, Castillo kept me interested. She grew up near the Amish, and is obviously writing about things that she’s experience first hand. And that always makes for a passionate writing experience and an exciting read.
Police Chief Kate Burklolder is my favorite character in this thriller, hands down. During the final conflict, I was cheering her on, even while I was cursing her for being so damn hard-headed.
My final verdict of this murder book is as follows: If you haven’t read it by now, I think you can safely spend you money.
This is the first Linda Castillo novel I’ve read and it won’t be the last.
By the way, if you'd like to view the completed review of this book, or just see what I'm up to, you can go to Best Murder Books and look around. Here's the link. Look forward to seeing you there.