Prather’s Pick: A Kate Burkholder Novel
There are a lot of different things going on in this week’s novel for adults, but the focus is a mystery centered around what was found after a tornado.
The setting of “After the Storm” by Linda Castillo is Painters Mill in Holmes County, Ohio, where the population is Amish, Mennonite, and English, a mixture of diverse cultural and religious beliefs. The leading character is Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of the Painters Mill Police Department, a small police department with only four full-time officers. (Castillo is the author of other Kate Burkholder novels.)
Thirty-three-year-old Kate was raised by Amish parents, but when she reached her teen years it became apparent that she lacked the ability to follow the fundamental rules of the Amish community so she left. Now she lives with John Tomasetti (whom everyone refers to as “Tomasetti”). He was a former detective with the Cleveland Division of Police and as present works as an agent for the Ohio Bureau of Investigation.
Kate and Tomasetti are not married, and that causes tension when they go to her brother Jacob’s farm where they have been invited for dinner. When Jacob, his wife Irene, sister Sarah, and her husband William sit down with their guests for fried chicken and potato salad, Jacob makes his feelings known. (The Pennsylvania Dutch dialogue is printed in italics and then translated by Kate.)
Jacob says that his sister and boyfriend are living in sin, but Tomasetti is calm when he tells Jacob that it is a matter between Kate and himself, and he hopes that the family will respect that. However, there is another cloud over dinner — literally. Dark clouds and lightning mean storm, and it isn’t long before Kate gets a call from headquarters. It’s a tornado that’s headed for Holmes County. It has already touched down nearby.
Kate and Tomasetti rush off to warn rural people who can’t hear the town’s siren. Sure enough, the tornado hits, causing damage all over the place but especially at a mobile home park south of town. In the aftermath of the storm, Kate and Tomasetti find a woman face down under a coffee table. Paula Kester is badly hurt, and so is her young baby, Lucy. Kate and Tomasetti smell gas and are afraid the mobile home will explode so they get mother and baby out of there. Kate knows that the baby should not be moved, but there is no choice.
Paula Kester lives, but the baby dies, and in the days that follow the Kesters accuse Kate of killing their baby. They are going to sue her. To make things worse, Nick Kester is a “loose cannon.”
So there are lots of personal things going on for Kate and Tomasetti, now Kate is going to be sued, and there’s more — the main focus of the novel. While the Boy Scouts are helping clean up the tornado’s mess, they find an unexpected discovery in the remains of an old barn — a human skull that turns out to be 30 years old.
There aren’t many bones with the skeleton, but there’s a metal plate (the kind used to repair broken bones) and an engagement ring. In the days to come these clues will be invaluable in identifying the victim. And there’s another thing — animal bite marks in some bones that turn up a gruesome clue.
The book’s plot uncovers some secrets and some pretty grisly details, too. It keeps the reader in suspense up to the end.
This book is published by Minotaur Books (2015). It can be found at the Craig Moffat County Library, or you can purchase it in hardcover for $25.99.
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