Gathering of Secrets
by Linda Castillo
& Interview by Elise Cooper
Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is a powerful
story. From the very first page, when a young Amish
woman commits suicide, the plot takes on a dark and
gripping tone, a very thought-provoking novel. Bur
readers should not be surprised considering Castillo
books are always insightful and riveting.
The story begins with Amish teenager Emma Miller hanging
herself and then fast forwards six months where Painter
Mills police chief Kate Buckholder is called to investigate
a body found in a burned barn. The initial reaction
is that it was a freak accident, but as the evidence
builds up Kate suspects murder. This eighteen-year-old
Amish boy, Daniel Gingerich, is found inside, burned
alive,and barricaded in the tack room with no way
to escape. She is baffled since it appears Daniel
has no enemies in the world, yet, he dies a harsh
and cruel death. The investigation takes on twists
and turns since Daniel has a secret life. Secrets
are the heart of the story as the Amish community
stays silent, basically attempting to stonewall the
case. Kate begins to wonder if this peaceful and deeply
religious community is conspiring to hide a truth
no one wants to talk about.
As she wades through a sea of suspects, she’s
confronted by her own violent past, which made her
leave the Amish community. She finds that there are
many parallels to her past as the rape of Amish girls
are hidden, and not talked about or reported. This
part of the story is very relevant to issues of today.
It is an Amish MeToo Moment. What also makes the plot
authentic is Kate’s reflection on the Amish
sects, their principles, rules, and her ability to
speak the Dutch language.
Castillo is a master at building suspense with intense
and dark secret undertones. This harrowing thriller,
with so many interesting characters, emphasizes how
religious beliefs influence the communities’
morality and the desire to obtain justice.
Burkholder Book Series @ Amazon
Cooper: How did you get the idea for the series?
Linda Castillo: That’s a difficult
question to answer without giving away too much but
I’ll take my best shot. One of the elements
of writing crime fiction that I love—and always
strive to find—is the unexpected. The unexpected
in terms of motive. The unexpected in terms of the
suspect. Those elements can never come from out of
left field. They must be part of the story. I believe
I achieved that with A Gathering of Secrets. That’s
about all I can say without including a spoiler.
Are you Amish?
Linda: I’m not Amish although I have
been asked that question on more than one occasion.
I’m originally from Ohio’s farm country,
so I’ve always been aware of the Amish. As a
child, I wasn’t particularly interested. As
an adult, while I was working on the idea of writing
a big thriller I made a trip to Amish Country. That
trip prompted the core idea for the Kate Burkholder
series. I found myself fascinated by the culture,
the history, the religion. I couldn’t think
of a more interesting setting, especially for a thriller.
As a writer, I was intrigued by that juxtaposition
of the bucolic setting standing in such sharp contrast
to crime—or evil. In addition to the mystery,
the books also offer an intimate glimpse into the
Amish culture. I wanted to explore that culture. I
wanted to write a protagonist that could immerse us
not only in the Amish world, but the “English”
world as well.
You write in the acknowledgements that this novel
was difficult to write. Why?
Linda: It was because of the subject matter.
The book opens with a young Amish woman committing
suicide. Readers do not know why, but as they turn
the pages they begin to understand what happened to
her. There is also this young man who was burned to
death, a very sad situation. As the investigation
takes on an ominous tone, I chose to explore the question,
is murder justified?
You write how suicide is viewed by the Amish?
This girl felt helpless. I hope I showed how
one of the Amish beliefs gave her courage. This is
why I wrote, “At some point, she’d begun
to cry. But she thought they were tears of happiness,
of relief. Mamm had always told her that death was
part of God’s divine plan. She knew the Lord
would welcome her with open arms. He would see her
Elise: How has the Amish community reacted
to your stories?
Linda: I am going to see one of my Amish
friends when I am on tour in July. He loves these
books. On the other side, I did hear from another
Amish man who is from a more Conservative sect. He
was really upset after reading an earlier book, Breaking
Silence, and told me he burned the book.
This story did not show the Amish community in a good
Linda: I think that we should never generalize
the entire community. But in this story, the community
did try to sweep things under the rug. The mother
of the girl who committed suicide was first seen as
uncaring and not supportive of her daughter. The parent
reactions depend on how they were raised and which
sect they were from. Another girl, Ruth, who became
pregnant from a rape, had her mother decide to find
her a husband to pass the baby off as her husbands.
Each mother tried to sweep the secret under the rug.
Why do you think the mothers had the attitude, “God
doesn’t let things like that happen to good
girls. She must’ve done something to tempt him”?
Linda: In my research I read that an Amish
boy who does something terribly wrong, even raping
someone, can get off. If he confesses before the Church
congregation, he is forgiven. This is why I wrote
the girls not speaking up, some committing suicide,
because they knew the boy would have been forgiven
and they would be caught up in the stigma.
Many of the Amish boys are not likeable characters?
Linda: I write one of them as a little weasel.
He knew that girls were getting raped and did nothing.
He even saw what happened to one personally and did
not step up to the plate to stop it. It was very satisfying
for me as a writer to have Kate slap the cigarette
out of his mouth.
Elise: It was surprising to see the Amish
did not object to some modern technology, such as
fire engines, autopsies, using the dentist/emergency
rooms, and having cell phones?
Linda: They have absolutely no problem using
modern medicine. Many times, if there is an illness
they will first try folk remedies. If that doesn’t
work they will go to a dentist or doctor. Regarding
the cell phone or technology, if it is used for business
many think it is OK. When it comes to business or
making money they are very enterprising. I think many
are more lenient with their business life than their
personal life. There are community phone booths. Teenagers
on Rumspringa will buy a cell phone. This is a period
in their life when they are not yet baptized, and
they have not joined the Church, so they are free
to drink, have modern technology, and dress as an
“Englisher,” with their parents looking
the other way.
Does it depend on the different faction of Amish?
Linda: There are sub-groups of the Anabaptists
that include the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.
They were very persecuted during the Reformation in
Europe because they believed in adult Baptism. Now
there are sub-groups of Amish, which I write about
in the book, the Beachy Amish and the Swartzentruber.
One of the girls, Neva Lambright, who was a Beachy
Amish, could drive a car, use a cash register at her
business, and wore clothes that were decoratively
colored. But I contrast her with the Swartzentruber
Amish who are much more Conservative. They do not
allow indoor plumbing, have no running water in the
house, and do not have gravel driveways. They will
not have windshields on their buggies, which makes
for hard times with inclement weather.
How do you come up with all those Amish names?
Linda: Usually I go to Holmes County Ohio,
the largest Amish community in the world. I actually
have an old Amish directory, a huge book that I go
through. The most popular Amish name is Miller, which
is why they are prone to use nicknames like Abe “chicken”
Miller, the Miller who raises chickens.
Elise: Why the pets of chicks?
Linda: Kate and her beau, John Tomasetti,
both work too much to have a dog or cat. I wanted
to use subtle symbolism for Kate and Tomasetti, as
they put down permanent roots. In this story John
gives Kate strength and support. Each are absolutely
nuts for each other I hope readers see it as a touching
scene. Chicks were chosen so Kate could relate to
her past, since she grew up in a rural setting. Even
though John is a city guy he is also really into the
farm scene. I guess subconsciously I used chicks because
I grew up in a rural area.
What do you want readers to get out of the story?
Linda: Entertainment, but also a feeling
that everything was tied up. I am curious to hear
what they thought of this story.
Elise: Can you give a heads up about your
Linda: A mystery involving a murder that
happens at the same time an Amish girl goes missing.
In future books, I know that in my writer’s
mind John is holding back a secret as he keeps his
cards close to his chest. I will play one of my favorite
writer games, “what-if.” I need to make
their relationship and John’s secret relevant
to the Amish Community.
and Elise want to thank Linda Castillo
the review and interview.
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