Outsider by Linda Castillo is a captivating mystery/thriller about a woman on the run, hiding among the Amish. The author is one of today’s best mystery writers, like a fine wine with each book better than the past one. It is somewhat of a story of opposites and how they co-exist. There is the Amish and “English,” bad cops versus good cops, the main character Kate who is careful and guarded, contrasted with her friend who is impulsive and reckless.
The book opens with Amish widower Adam Lengacher, while riding a sleigh with his three small children, finding a crashed car. Nearby he finds a woman with a gunshot wound who is asking for Kate Burkholder. He takes her to his farmhouse where Kate meets him. She realizes that the woman, Gina Colorosa is an estranged friend who met and rescued Kate years ago shortly after she left the Amish community. They went through the police academy together and worked for the Columbus police department until Kate questioned Gina’s behavior. Now a decade later, Kate has become the police chief of Painter’s Mill.
“I know some of my readers really loved her and some did not. I did like her and thought she was a fun character to write. She was actually mentioned in the very first book, but in passing. She was the one who taught Kate not to be Amish. I also hope readers enjoyed the moral questions that came up. Kate wants to trust Gina to do the right thing. Because the bad cops used intimidation, manipulation, and are so arrogant they had power. They never thought they could get caught. She is an ambiguous character. Generally speaking she has a good heart. Overall, a thrill seeker, an adventurer, charming, fearless, and rough around the edges. Even though she got in with the wrong crowd I do think she is a redeeming character who at the end wanted to make things right. She has a conscience. Because of her imperfections she was filled with regret, shame, and grief, and did realize she had some issues she must atone for.”
Kate finds out that Gina is being pursued by crooked and corrupt cops. Gina tells how she is being framed because she was the cause of a quiet investigation on them, currently in progress. Now Kate, with the help of her lover, John Tomasetti, working for the Ohio Bureau of Investigation, must unravel the lies from the truth. Is Gina innocent, guilty, or somewhere in between? Should she turn in this woman she considered a sister, or help hide and protect her?
“I wrote this book a while back before all this happened with the police had come to light. I am a crime buff and have read real-life cases. Every police officer is an individual. The Columbus police force did get into trouble. Also, a scene in the book was inspired by what happened in the Houston police force. I wanted to show how nobody is perfect and, in every profession, there are bad guys and good guys. Also, there has to be disastrous no-knock warrants. There have been some disastrous ones. Just imagine all the kinds of things that can go wrong. The home owner does not know who is bursting into their home. What if they had a gun and the police have guns? It is dangerous for everyone involved. I wanted to explore what happens when the police intelligence is wrong or if the police have an ulterior motive.”
To make matters worse, which ramps up the tension, is a blizzard that keeps everyone stranded at the farmhouse, basically isolated from the outside world. The only way to travel is by sled. Readers feel they are trapped with the characters; yet, they are able to get a portrait of Amish daily life. The scene with the calf is not only informative, but it is a welcome release of the tension.
As with every Kate Burkholder book, readers become disappointed when they are finished because they must wait a whole year until the next one. The author is an expert on using the weather, Amish life, and a crime to build the suspense. In the midst of all the retirements among police officers today people have to hope Kate never retires.