A Gathering of Secrets is a crime novel taking place during the current time in Painters Mill, an Amish community in Ohio. It begins with a grisly Prologue during which Emma Miller, a seventeen year old Amish girl, hangs herself in the family barn. Chapter One occurs six months later. Daniel Gingerich, an eighteen year old Amish boy, has received an anonymous note from an admirer to meet at midnight. While awaiting the mystery lass, he is locked in the tack room of his family’s barn. The building is set on fire and he suffers a gruesome death. This is the chapter’s final paragraph:
“With a final hideous roar, the fire swept over him. Red-hot teeth tearing into him, chewing him up, grinding flesh and bone into a molten ooze, and sucking him into its belly.”
The reader is compelled to solve the mystery as to who and why someone had murdered Daniel and its connection to Emma’s suicide.
Chapter Two introduces Kate Burkholder, the Police Chief and a former Amish whose sister has remained a member of the church. Evidence confirms arson; dental records identify Daniel the victim; and an investigation launched. John Tomasetti, an agent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Kate’s clandestine lover plays an integral role. He helps clarify police procedures and through the dynamics of their relationship sheds light on the reasons Kate disavowed her Amish upbringing.
Chapters Three to Twenty-Five unfold in twists. The author introduces several families and a range of characters whose history with Daniel advances plot. Disturbing truths and long protected secrets are exposed revealing Painters Mill not exactly an idyllic community.
The author provides excellent insight into various Amish sects, the traditional Swartzentruber and more modern, Beachy Amish. The interjection of Pennsylvania-Dutch during Kate’s conversations with the Amish contributes to authenticity as do portrayals of livelihoods and lifestyles. Understanding the Amish enables readers to grasp the significance of tradition; conflicts between sects; challenges for males and females plus the younger generation; and the manner in which problems are addressed and settled.
A Gathering Of Secrets prompts contemplation about issues such as loyalty and honour. This Chapter Six excerpt addresses murder causing one to question the motivation of what done to Daniel:
“Some people say murder is a senseless act, I don’t agree, There’s no doubt murder is a brutal act. It’s a cruel act. An immoral act. It’s wrong in the eyes of the law. A sin in the eyes of God. Murder is an unthinkable deed in the mind of any decent human being. But murder is rarely senseless.”
Chapter Eight is noteworthy depicting the relationship between Neva Lambright, Viola Stutzman and Ina Yoder, three young Amish women whose lives interwoven with Daniel’s and altered by his death. Neva’s family is Beachy Amish and owns The Mercantile, a craft shop and small bistro. The others are traditional. This excerpt is specific to Neva Lambright and speaks to Linda Castillo’s skill in penning descriptions:
“…Raven hair. Peaches-and-cream complexion. Eyes the color of cognac. Not a stitch of makeup and she’s cosmetic-commercial pretty. She’s wearing a pastel pink dress with a white, organdie head covering that tells me she’d Beachy Amish.”
In the end Daniel’s murder is solved and those responsible brought to justice; nevertheless, the resolution is tinged with sadness. There are many victims associated with the crime committed. And sadly, it seems Kate has yet to fully escape from her darkness. This excerpt from Chapter Sixteen speaks to her tragedy:
“I dream of Daniel Lapp. I’m fourteen years old and I still believe the world is a safe place where nothing bad could ever happen. I’m innocent and carefree and I have no concept of the violence that is about to shatter my sheltered and protected life….I scream for help, but no one comes. No ones comes. And the shame that follows makes me want to die….”
A Gathering Of Secrets is an excellent book. Thank you, Linda Castillo.