Review and Q and A With Linda Castillo
AMONG THE WICKED
July 12th, 2016
AMONG THE WICKED by Linda Castillo is the latest in a series of books with a unique premise. It is no wonder this has made the New York Times Bestseller list with glimpses into the Amish life, well-developed characters, and a gripping plot.
In this book her main character, Police Chief Kate Burkholder, goes undercover as an Amish woman, essentially heading back to her roots. She is forced to confront her past life in a community that isolates itself, and within an unfamiliar environment, upstate New York. Castillo brilliantly portrays Kate’s struggles with her own personal conflicts between her Amish upbringing and her current English life. Called upon by law enforcement in rural New York, because of her Amish roots, she is asked to infiltrate a reclusive Amish settlement to find answers behind a girl’s death. This unorthodox assignment with limited communication puts her in constant danger as she tries to find answers.
Readers will feel a deep connection with Kate. Castillo is one of those special writers that draws people into her characters, rooting for the protagonists and seeing pure evil in the antagonists. Kate is compassionate, feisty, intelligent, tough, and devoted to finding justice. With each book the author peels off layers of Kate’s backstory, allowing people to see her flaws and the challenges from her past. She is a kindred spirit with her lover, BCI Detective Tom Tomasetti. Both sought vigilante justice, had secrets, and were not in a good place when the series began. But with this book readers can see how they have bonded with the same personalities and belief systems, as well as hoping for a happy future.
Powerful quotes reflect the real world of the police that are represented in Kate’s attitude. “That when I sink my teeth into a case, I can’t let it go, sometimes to my own detriment… Because I am a cop. Because I’m the best person for the job. Because I am good at what I do. Because she doesn’t have anyone else to speak for her.” And, “Being a good cop, being careful and following the rules isn’t always enough. Cops will get hurt. Sometimes they die. Welcome to law enforcement.”
This series is very realistic as Castillo blends glimpses of the Amish community within an intense and compelling storyline. Readers are drawn into the story and hooked from page one. This is a homerun, as Kate’s own personal conflicts blends into the crime she is trying to solve.
Q/A with author below:
This book, AMONG THE WICKED, is very realistic as Castillo blends glimpses of the Amish community within an intense and compelling storyline. Police Chief Kate Burkholder goes undercover as an Amish woman, essentially heading back to her roots. She is forced to confront her past life in a community that isolates itself, and within an unfamiliar environment, upstate New York. She infiltrates a reclusive Amish settlement to find answers behind a girl’s death. This unorthodox assignment with limited communication puts her in constant danger as she tries to find answers.
Elise Cooper: How did you come about to write this series?
Linda Castillo: I began my career in 1999 as a romance-suspense writer, but this year I let my membership expire. While writing at the same time for Harlequin and Berkeley I kept getting the same comments from my editors, that I need to concentrate more on the relationship and less on the suspense. At that point I realized I was writing the wrong genre. I wanted to break out of romantic suspense, and write a pure thriller. In 2005 I took a trip to Amish country, and after seeing an Amish buggy coming down the road, I knew then that I wanted my heroine to be Amish, immersing both the English and Amish world. What I wanted to do when I started writing this series is to be respectful to the Amish but also to depict them in a truthful way, sometimes imperfect. I needed to make sure Kate is sympathetic, but with flaws. I love the juxtaposition of wholesome versus the evil characters.
EC: In some ways AMONG THE WICKED seems a direct extension of SWORN TO SILENCE. Do you agree?
LC: These are my two favorite books. SWORN TO SILENCE, the first book in the series, is where Kate Burkholder is born, created, and the setting of Painter’s Mill was conceived. In Among The Wicked, the recent book in the series, I finally wrote what I wanted to do for a long time, to put Kate back in the Amish life. Kate has to go back to this culture where she has many mixed feelings. Both books had winter settings that adds atmosphere. From the first book to this last one I hope readers see growth between Kate and her two oldest siblings as they all struggle with her leaving and coming back to the fold in some way. I wanted to write a series where the protagonist is immersed and torn between two cultures that many times clash.
EC: Did you ever live among the Amish?
LC: No, but I travel to Amish country every year. A friend of mine, a librarian from Ohio, is one of these people who are friends with everybody. She set me up with an Amish family who I had dinner with. In another family an Amish gentleman showed me how the lights worked in the house, took me for a buggy ride, and even allowed me to drive it. This personal contact helped me in writing the Amish scenes on how they interacted and lived. I was lucky enough during my first book tour to meet the local curator of the Amish Mennonite Museum who took me on a tour. It was here I learned why they came to America in the late 1700s, early 1800s, because of the persecutions for what they believed. I also learned about the Amish through those who left the culture and while reading some great books.
EC: You write in your books some tidbits of their beliefs. Please explain.
LC: I try to include some of their belief system. This includes being a pacifist, not behaving in violence, believing in forgiveness, and not wanting to be worldly. They have a strong sense of family and community. They are connected in ways that mainstream American society is not. I write about the unwritten rules of not having a phone in their house, but being able to use a pay phone at the end of their block, or not driving a vehicle, but if they must go a long distance being able to hire a driver. The contrast of old versus new is profound.
EC: You have Pennsylvania Dutch phrases in the book. How did you learn it?
LC: I learned it is not really Dutch but a variation of German. My library friend provided me with a Dutch to English, English to Dutch dictionary so I could hopefully conjugate my verbs properly. It is a very difficult language to find a lot of information on. Interestingly, at a book signing last year a woman from Germany told me she could not understand the Amish German, but they could understand her German.
EC: How did you learn about the police?
LC: I made some very valuable contacts. I went to dinner with a police chief whose territory included Amish country. I’m a graduate of two citizen police academies where I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful officers and learn about what they do in a weekly class. I did ride-alongs in a large metropolitan city with both male and female officers.
EC: Did you role-play?
LC: I participated in a shoot/no shoot scenario. I was given a police issue plugged 45 revolver. A police officer and I ran through the halls of the training facility, bursting through doors. I had no idea what kind of “crime scenario” I would encounter on the other side of the door. I had a split second to decide if the situation called for deadly force. I realized I would be the most inept police officer in the world. I entered this ladies restroom, and saw a man on top of a woman. He clearly had something black in his hand. I fired my weapon and shot him. He had this big grin on his face and held up his police badge. I got razzed for the rest of the course and they never let me live it down. The citizen police academies were an interesting experience and incredibly educational, and allowed me to get in the head of a police officer.
EC: The role-playing seems to relate to the Kate quote from this book, “Being a good cop, being careful and following the rules isn’t always enough. Cops will get hurt. Sometimes they die. Welcome to law enforcement.”
LC: The one place she fits in is that she is a cop through and through. She was trying to get that point across. When I was at the police academies it really gave me a new perspective on the dangerous and difficult work police officers face every day and the ability to write these police procedural scenes.
EC: Do any Amish enjoy/dislike your books?
LC: I met an Amish gentleman, a curator, who loved the second book. I did receive a letter from an Amish man living in Wisconsin. He had just finished reading the third book in the series and told me how offended he was. He hated the book so much he burned it. I never responded back and chalked it up to an experience.
EC: SWORN TO SILENCE was made into a Lifetime movie, “An Amish Murder.” It appeared to be a PG version of a serial killer, a simplistic version of your novel. What do you think?
LC: As a writer it was really exciting to see it come to life. I enjoyed Neve Campbell as Kate. One of the things they did very well is capture the atmosphere of a small town and how the cold winter influenced the story. I knew that as a Lifetime movie the audience expects the plot to be a little softer. The book was definitely more hard edge with language and violence. This was supposed to be a pilot for four two-hour movies, but Neve pulled out. Currently, there has been interest by several production companies but nothing is in the works.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book projects?
LC: My next book will feature Kate Burkholder. It is about an Amish man who was a neighbor and a friend to Kate when she was a young girl. Fast-forward to present time where he is in prison for killing his wife. But he escapes and there is an armed hostage standoff where Kate is involved. This affects her personally and we will see a glimpse into her past with the Amish culture. I will also be writing a true stand-alone that is more of a mystery. Set in Dallas it involves a kidnapping. After that will be another Kate novel. The timeline for the next few books will probably be about nine months.