What Is It About the Amish?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seems like pop culture has some sort of strange fascination with the Amish.  Which is kind of funny when you think about it, since the Amish have absolutely no interest in pop culture.  From the movie Witness to that show about teenagers in rumspringa, modern Americans seem keen to understand what makes a group of people cut themselves off from so many of the conveniences that we take for granted.

Well, we can add Linda Castillo to the list of Amish-ophiles.  In her novel, Sworn to Silence, we meet Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, who runs the police department of the small town of Painters Mill in Ohio's Amish country.  Formerly Amish herself, Kate seems like the perfect person to navigate the sometimes difficult path between the Amish and the "English" neighbors.  One night, after a call about cows in the road, the body of a young girl is discovered, naked and mutilated, in a field.  Soon the whole town believes that the "Slaughterhouse Killer", who terrorized the town 16 years before has returned.  Everyone but Kate, that is-because 16 years ago, she killed him.

As mysteries go this one was a pretty good debut.  There are the usual plot points for this kind of novel-strong but flawed woman with a past, the cop on the edge that she finds herself attracted to, the ritualistic nature of serial murder.  But, the Amish connection was pretty well done, and was enough to keep my interest during some of the more predictable parts of the story.  This is the first book in the series, and I plan to read the next one to see if Castillo can keep the momentum going, or if the small-town, Amish/English dynamic proves to be self-limiting.  I mean, really, how much mayhem can the Amish get into, what with their no violence, no hatred, so weapons policy?

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