BOOK: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo (2010)

prayforsilenceThe first thing I always do when I’m on vacation somewhere is seek out the area’s best local bookstores.  While vacationing recently in Chelan, Washington, my husband and I poked our heads into Riverwalk Books, the area’s ONLY bookstore (as near as we could tell) and a very cool little shop right in the tiny downtown area.

I’d brought a couple of books with me on vacation, but I was having trouble getting into them and wanted something dumb and frivolous to dive into instead.  On a whim, I picked this one up — the second installment in Castillo’s mystery series set in Amish country, Ohio.  The protagonist of the series is a police detective named Kate Burkholder, who grew up Amish herself — something that sounded, from the book jacket, like it could be kind of intriguing and different.   According to the jacket, she also had a tumultuous relationship with an FBI guy, which sounded like it could be kind of . . . trite and done-to-death.  But I’m a sucker for stories about closed societies — nuns, Amish people, boarding schools, etc. — I find the psychology of those groups fascinating and they also often make for great settings for mysteries.  So, I plunked down my $12.99 or whatever (support your local bookstores!), and off we went to spend a week reading books and drinking wine (two things that go VERY well with Chelan, WA, I discovered)!

As this novel opens, Kate has been called out to the Plank residence, a small farm in Painter’s Mill where a family of Amish folks from another region had recently moved.  Reports of a murder called her out — but what she finds on the scene is much more horrifying than she was initially led to believe.  The entire family has been brutally slain, and while at first it looks like a murder-suicide perpetrated by the father, Kate quickly discovers the murderer seems instead to have been an outsider — possibly an “English” (non-Amish) boy the Plank’s 15 year-old daughter had recently been having a secret love affair with.

Though the crime scene was a little more brutal than I typically want to have to stomach from a frivolous mystery paperback (very vivid descriptions of tortured teenage girls is never really my favorite thing), for the most part, the first half of this book was decent.  Not terribly original, nothing too exciting, but it was moving along okay and the characters weren’t annoying.

Then we got to the scene in which Kate finds a damning piece of evidence at the local “make-out” park and promptly spends the next 150 pages NOT pursuing the lead.  When she found the evidence, which pointed SQUARELY at one of her suspects and made it 95% clear he was the doer, and then went and interviewed someone else instead, I thought to myself, “If it turns out that’s the guy who did it, this book is going right in the recycling bin.”

Well, consider it recycled (only, not really, of course, because I could never do that to a book).  Not only does that guy end up being The Guy, but even after acknowledging that the evidence she founds leads right to his front door, she STILL dicks around for the second half of the book, following much weaker leads, “forgetting” to go interview THE OBVIOUS SUSPECT, and talking about her stupid boyfriend problems.

Seriously.  No.  I’m sorry.  You can’t have your super-savvy detective protagonist find the evidence that proves the guilty man is guilty halfway through your mystery novel and then NOT DO ANYTHING with it.  That is a sign of weak thinking when it comes to crafting a plot line.  There was no legitimate reason for it — no purpose for the story other than to just fill it out to novel-length.  It almost felt like Castillo had organized the outline of her plot on a set of index cards and then accidentally gotten one of the last cards shuffled into the middle instead.  Bad, bad, bad.  NO.  No can do, lady.  NO. CAN. SRSLY. DO.

THAT SAID.  I did read the whole thing, and had it not been for that (major! huge!) flaw, I would’ve finished this book up thinking it wasn’t a bad choice for a vacation read.  Though the characters aren’t terribly original (tough female cop can’t keep a boyfriend because she’s closed off emotionally! Yawn. See: 95% of every tough female cop character EVER WRITTEN), I enjoyed all the stuff about the Amish and it’s clear Castillo knows that intriguing community well.  That alone made me pick up the first book in this series when I saw it on the library shelf last week — we’ll see if I can get myself to crack it open.  Fingers crossed the author kept her index cards in order this time around. . .

NOTE:  SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW!  Stay out unless you don’t care about the obvious clue and the identity of the killer!


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3 Responses to “BOOK: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo (2010)”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    It’s a hard line to walk, between the superhuman detective and the one whose readers are screaming “No! No! It was him!” by chapter two. A problem that I’ve been having recently, reading quite a lot of mysteries, is that I’m spotting the murderer by his narrative shape rather than by the actual clues.

    But this is a step beyond that, and I can’t account for it by any process that makes more sense than your index card explanation. Perhaps the author thought it was a less obvious clue than you did? Interested to hear more…

    • megwood Says:

      I know what you mean by being able to figure out who is guilty from the narrative shape — kind of like Scooby Doo, where you know whoever the first non-Scooby person the gang meets is inevitably going to be the dude in the monster costume at the end of the episode! I have this problem a lot with mystery TV shows too — if it’s an actor you recognize guest-starring, his/her character is bound to be the perpetrator!

      In this novel, though, there’s NO WAY the author didn’t think the clue was as significant as I did. I’ll add a note above about spoilers in comments so I can tell you more here — assuming you won’t bother to read this novel yourself now that I’ve told you it stinks! 🙂

      SPOILER ALERT!!! ——–>

      The detective found the 15 year old girl’s diary (the girl was one of the murder victims). In the diary, the girl talked about meeting and falling in love with a boy she met at work. In one section, she describes going to the local lakeside park with him to make out and drink a bottle of chianti in a wicker basket, as you often see chianti packaged. The detective goes to the park to look for clues, and lo and behold, finds an empty chianti bottle in the bushes. On the bottle are the fingerprints of one of their prime suspects, whom they know had frequently encountered the girl at work (he made deliveries to the store she worked in). They had already interviewed him, but hadn’t yet taken the time to check his alibi. Even after finding the bottle, they STILL don’t bother to check his alibi — for about 150 more pages! Even though when the detective found the bottle and checked the prints, she was all, “Wow, that sure makes it seem like so-and-so is guilty!” 150 pages later, she talks to the guy’s girlfriend, who immediately busts his alibi, and voila.

      D-U-M dumb!!

      I kept thinking SURELY if she’s not pursuing that clue it must be because the author knows it’s not an important clue because the author knows he’s not the killer. Alas, no!

      • RogerBW Says:

        I’m fortunate in that I don’t recognise a lot of guest stars. 🙂

        Yeah, that’s not “failing to have a moment of brilliant inspiration”, that’s “failing to do the basic legwork”. It’s dropping the causal chain rather than coming to the end of it and having to look around for something else to do.

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