Book review: ‘Down a Dark Road’ by Linda Castillo


Chief Kate Burkholder grew up with Joseph King. Like Kate, he was Amish at the time, a neighbor and her first love. After his father died in a buggy accident, Joseph changed, and they lost touch until now, 20 years later.

A year ago, Joseph had been convicted of the shotgun murder of his wife. And now he had escaped from prison. Since his five children had been placed with an aunt near Painter’s Mill, it was possible he would turn up there. Smart money was on a quick escape as far away as possible, perhaps Canada.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if he hadn’t returned. Through a series of events, he not only returns to claim his children, but manages to chase away the aunt and uncle and force Kate into the house — a hostage situation. He doesn’t want Kate as a hostage, though; he needs her help to prove his innocence.

In the meantime, all of the police in the area have arrived, including the SWAT squad. Lights are flashing, negotiating attempts are being made, and Kate is trying to get Joseph to accept what she feels is reason. Among other things, this is too dangerous for the children. At this point, the reader sees no good way out of the situation. King must sleep sometime, he’s badly outnumbered, etc.

That’s where it stands when Kate is sent away to find out what she can. Her pleas for leniency fall on deaf ears as Joe is seen as a desperate killer and her observations as the naive beliefs resulting from her former friendship. Even if he is innocent, which is doubtful, how is she going to have time to prove that to save Joseph?

With a good deal of old-fashioned detective work, it begins to look like King could possibly be innocent. But how to prove it to the skeptical? And why are they so hell bent to bring this to a conclusion regardless? The original set of “facts” appear distorted. As this is uncovered, the regular reader of the Burkholder books begins to see the formula emerge. Kate is going to be put in at least one more life-threatening situation before the conclusion of the book. The mystery at this point, besides the one central to story, is who or what will save her?

It is usually my wife Arlis who finds factual or editorial mistakes in a book. Though not necessarily central elements to the story, they can be distracting. I found two factual errors right away but did not note others. Castillo uses the terms “rifle” and “shotgun” interchangeably early in the book. Also, there is the “flash of a sunfish” in the creek below. Unless the sunfish escaped from a nearby lake, that is very unlikely. That said, I included them in the review just to prove that I was paying attention.

“Down a Dark Road” is a good mystery. Though it is a part of a series, you can, and perhaps should, pick it up and read it now. It stands up very well, even if you haven’t read the previous books.

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