When it comes to mysteries, the cozy sub-genre tends to draw pretty extreme reactions. Most readers either love them or hate them. You can count me in the “love them” camp. They’re usually written in series, which is something I enjoy. Part of it probably goes back to growing up with the Hardy Boys (and, yes, Nancy Drew), but mostly I like seeing how the main characters change as the series advances. Of course, like everyone, I have my favorites, and ones I don’t like so well. So here’s a list of ten of my favorite cozy mystery series, as well as ones I don’t like so much.
Sworn to Silence is the first book in Linda Castillo‘s Amish Thriller series. It features Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of the small Ohio Amish Country town of Painter’s Mill. I’ll admit I had started this book with pretty low expectations. I had tried unsuccessfully to read another Amish-themed mystery about a year ago. It didn’t help that the reviews for this book that I read on Amazon weren’t encouraging, either. In fact, some of them were quite brutal. If I hadn’t needed to read the book for an upcoming book club meeting, I likely wouldn’t have bothered. That would have been a shame, because it would mean I had missed one of the best contemporary mysteries I’ve read in some time.
Castillo is a very good writer, and she clearly knows her stuff. Whether it’s modern-day police procedures or life among the Amish, she has a depth of knowledge that I found refreshingly unexpected. Her portrayal of Amish life is particularly well done, showing the complexity behind the stereotypical simplicity. Castillo manages to be both sympathetic toward and realistic about the Plain people, thus avoiding the idolization I’ve seen in some other authors. This was one of the characteristics that drew me to the book.
As for the story itself, I simply couldn’t put it down. The two main characters, Burkholder and BCI field agent John Tomasetti, have both been badly damaged by events in their lives and so are always on the edge of despair. Nevertheless, they remain likable characters. We want them to succeed at their task, as well as in their lives. And what a task they’ve got! A series of horrific (and I don’t use that word lightly) murders are happening in this small country town that exactly mimic murders from 16 years previously. Is it a copycat or the same killer? If a copycat, then how does the killer know details of the killings that were never made public? If the same killer, then why the 16 year break between murders? The investigation is confusing, and is further complicated by local politics and long-held secrets from Burkholder’s past. The author puts a great amount of detail into telling the story of both the investigation and the murders. Sometimes a truly disturbing amount of detail. Much of the book reads less like fiction and more like true crime reporting. After finishing the book you’ll want a long, hot shower to try to wash yourself clean. But you’ll want to put Linda Castillo on your list of must-read authors, too. I know I have.