Finding a Good Series

I always look forward to finding a good series and there are two that I recently discovered, and it’s fun anticipating the release of the next installments.  I don’t typically read crime dramas, but these are just twisted enough to keep my attention and are written by two very strong female authors.

The Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo (published by Minotaur Books) is about a chief of police in a small Ohio town and the various crimes she investigates.  The twist: she’s former Amish and had a dark past.

Sworn To Silence (Book 1) ****

I was intrigued by the premise of this book – gruesome murders taking place in an idyllic Amish community and the formerly Amish cop trying to catch the killer.  It delivered a good story, grisly details and compelling characters. However, the Amish factor didn’t contribute to the overall narrative as much as I thought it would.  I was hoping it would illustrate the Amish culture more. While it did play a role, the book could have easily been set in any small Midwestern town, Amish or not.

As the body count rises and the investigation becomes more desperate, I found that the action got burdened down with the procedural aspects of police matters.  It was as if Castillo was
invited to a police station or a ride-along for a day and took diligent notes on every police practice, method and system, even cop-speak.  Although this gave the story authenticity, I could have done without knowing the intricacies of every criminal database in use throughout the United States. My only other qualm was that there were little technical flaws that were distracting, like the author repeating thoughts within a few pages of each other.

Otherwise, this was a great book. The characters were very engaging, especially when their dark secrets are revealed.  The mystery was disturbing and exhilarating, delivering a satisfying conclusion.

Pray for Silence (Book 2) *****

This sequel was better than Castillo’s debut, Sworn to Silence.  I felt the writing was more refined, although she had a tendency to be redundant in her use of phrases and thoughts.  The
already well-established characters came through with even more strength and appeal. Their fallibility makes them believable, especially the formerly Amish Police Chief Kate Burkholder whose own history affects her current struggles.  I especially liked that the Amish community was more of a focus than in the previous novel, as the victims were Amish, which allowed for a greater examination of the culture.  The crime itself, the brutal murder of an entire family was chilling, but the more Kate uncovered, the more disturbing it became.  The revelation of the motives was effective and kept me anticipating further developments.  Yes, there are some graphic depictions, but it is by no means the most gruesome thing I’ve ever read.  Castillo portrays what is necessary to establish the unnerving atmosphere that surrounds the mystery.  I found this book very compelling and look forward to the continuation of the series.

Breaking Silence (Book 3) *****

Breaking Silence is the strongest book yet in the Kate Burkholder series.  Castillo has by now really invested in her characters and developed their strengths and weaknesses.  I appreciate the way Kate struggled to keep her emotions in check during her investigation into the suspicious death of three Amish people.  When it is discovered that the victims, found dead in a manure pit, did not just succumb to the deadly methane gasses, Kate must discover whether the murders are tied to a wave of hate crimes against the Amish community.  I enjoyed the twist at the end in regards to the murders, but I felt the conclusion of the hate crime arc was too easily wrapped up and it didn’t seem final to me.

There were other flaws, like Kate constantly reminding the reader that she grew up Amish.  I’m familiar with your background, Kate, I’ve read the series.  As in the past books, there is often an abrupt change in perspective from Kate’s first person narration to 3rd person.  It’s somewhat disorienting at first, but as the book progressed, I didn’t notice it as much.  The police procedures were less like a rookie cop on a ride-along, which I noticed in the first book.  Despite these few quirks, I’m really enjoying this series and the evolution of Castillo’s confidence in her story and her characters.

The second is the Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain (published by Minotaur Books), about serial killer Gretchen Lowell and the cop Archie Sheridan, who was in charge of the task force investigating Gretchen’s crimes.  The twist: Archie was also Gretchen’s former lover and victim and they have a sick co-dependant relationship.

Heartsick (Book 1) ****

Tormented detective Archie Sheridan is summoned to head up a task force to find a serial killer who is kidnapping teenage girls.  But Archie is battling his own demons, including an addiction to painkillers, as he races the clock before another girl is taken and murdered.  He is haunted by his own abduction and torture at the hands of serial killer Gretchen Lowell, who turned herself in to authorities upon releasing Archie.  Many reviewers have compared Heartsick to Silence of the Lambs and the Hannibal/Clarice dynamic, but while there were a few minor parallels, this story stood on its own.  I thought it effectively humorous that Gretchen references Hannibal Lecter when emphasizing that she is not in a role to assist in Archie’s investigation.  However, she is equally as manipulative and evil as Lecter and her portrayal is chilling.  Also in the mix is quirky reporter Susan Ward, who plays a key role in the plot, though I felt she was peripheral to the more engaging aspect of the story, which is the relationship between Archie and Gretchen.  Overall, it was a good story, especially Archie’s recollections of his captivity two years prior, but the hunt for the current killer was a bit tedious.  It would have been more fulfilling if it has a more psychological edge to it that made the unnerving feeling linger.

Sweetheart (Book 2) ****

In her follow-up to Heart Sick, Cain does a reasonably good job at tying up any loose ends and further developing her characters.  Archie is still dealing with his addiction, Susan is still trying to expose a corrupt senator, and Gretchen is still as manipulative as ever.  There is nothing exceptionally surprising or disturbing, but it is a decent plot that gains momentum once Gretchen escapes from prison.  There is more to the relationship between her and Archie that is revealed and gives the reader a glimpse into his desperation.  Susan’s pursuit of her story brings in a political plot that conveniently connects all the dots of corruption and multiple unsolved murders.  The writing was mediocre, and while not entirely original, Cain has created an entertaining series that will keep readers engaged and looking forward to her next books featuring Archie and Gretchen.

Evil at Heart (Book 3) *****

This was my favorite Beauty Killer book so far, as the familiar characters (Archie, Gretchen, Henry, Susan) are well-established and the plot was very engaging.  Gretchen Lowell is on the loose and a new wave of murders may have been committed by her or a copycat.  There are some disturbing things happening, and it is up to Archie, with the help of persistent reporter
Susan and task-force head Henry, to determine whether Gretchen is involved.  It was nice to see Archie gain more control of himself and not be so tormented by the memory of Gretchen and what she did to him.  The madness of people venerating her is what drives this book and it was unsettling to see how effectively Gretchen could manipulate people. I think the suspense and the gore make for a fun read and I look forward to the next installment in the series.

The Night Season (Book 4) ****

I was debating whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars, but decided to round up because I’m such a big fan of this series.  There are several reasons I didn’t like this book as much as the previous three.  The first is that there was not enough Gretchen Lowell, the notorious sexy serial killer who tormented Archie Sheridan throughout the earlier books, although there is a bit of a teaser at the end that left me anticipating the next installment.  The second reason is that it takes place during a flood crisis and the constant downpours and threat of the deluge made me feel like the damp and rain were saturating the whole book.  Then again, I guess Cain effectively conveyed the disaster and the atmosphere that went along with the oppressive torrent.   I was also frustrated with the thoughtlessly foolish decisions people made (jumping into a swift and dangerous river, entering a strange man’s house alone). The final reason it was not up to par with the other books was that the killer’s motive and methods were pretty unbelievable.  Without giving anything away, his bizarre “murder weapon,” if you can even call it that, seemed improbable.  The tie-in story of a tragedy that occurred in 1948 felt contrived.  Sure, Cain tied up all the loose ends nicely at the end, but there was cause for some eye
rolling and one case that was never justified was a bit of a cop-out.

Despite these flaws, I did enjoy the book and read it in one day.  This is pure entertainment and fans of the series will appreciate revisiting the familiar characters like Archie, Susan and Henry.  There is enough suspense to keep it moving quickly and the high body count doesn’t hurt, either.

One response to “Finding a Good Series

  1. Hi Julz! The Kate Burkholder series looks good! I will have to give it a try. I just read two books in J.D.Robb’s Death Series. They were also very entertaining. Have you read any?

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