“A Gathering of Secrets” by Linda Castillo is a powerful story. From the very first page, when a young Amish woman commits suicide, the plot takes on a dark and gripping tone, a very thought-provoking novel. But readers should not be surprised, considering Castillo books are always insightful and riveting.
“The book opens with a young Amish woman committing suicide. Readers do not know why, but as they turn the pages they begin to understand what happened to her,” Castillo said. “There is also this young man who was burned to death, a very sad situation. As the investigation takes on an ominous tone, I chose to explore the question, is murder justified?”
The story begins with Amish teenager Emma Miller hanging herself and then fast forwards six months where Painter Mills Police Chief Kate Buckholder is called to investigate a body found in a burned barn. The initial reaction is that it was a freak accident, but as the evidence builds up Kate suspects murder. This 18-year-old Amish boy, Daniel Gingerich, is found inside, burned alive and barricaded in the tack room with no way to escape.
She is baffled since it appears Daniel has no enemies in the world, yet, he dies a harsh and cruel death. The investigation takes on twists and turns since Daniel has a secret life. Secrets are the heart of the story as the Amish community stays silent, basically attempting to stonewall the case. Kate begins to wonder if this peaceful and deeply religious community is conspiring to hide a truth no one wants to talk about.
As she wades through a sea of suspects, she’s confronted by her own violent past, which made her leave the Amish community. She finds that there are many parallels to her past as the rapes of Amish girls are hidden and not talked about or reported. This part of the story is very relevant to issues of today. It is an Amish MeToo Moment. What also makes the plot authentic is Kate’s reflection on the Amish sects, their principles, rules and her ability to speak the Dutch language.
“I never want to generalize, and remember this is a fictional story,” the author said. “I think that we should never generalize the entire community. But in this story, the community did try to sweep things under the rug. The mother of the girl who committed suicide was first seen as uncaring and not supportive of her daughter. The parent reactions depend on how they were raised and which sect they were from. Another girl, Ruth, who became pregnant from a rape, had her mother decide to find her a husband to pass the baby off as her husband’s. Each mother tried to sweep the secret under the rug.
“In my research, I read that an Amish boy who does something terribly wrong, even raping someone, can get off. If he confesses before the church congregation, he is forgiven. This is why I wrote the girls not speaking up, some committing suicide because they knew the boy would have been forgiven and they would be caught up in the stigma.”
Castillo is a master at building suspense with intense and dark secret undertones. This harrowing thriller, with so many interesting characters, emphasizes how religious beliefs influence the communities’ morality and the desire to obtain justice.