Sworn to Silence: Murder and the secrets families keep

Sworn to silence book review

What is this about?: Kate is investigating a series of murders, much like the ones that happene din her town 16 years ago – and she’s always been convinced the man she killed was responsible for them. But. The story isn’t as simple as that.

What else is this about?: Family – Kate coming to terms with hers and their shared past. And it’s about her moving forward too.


When a serial killer strikes bucolic Painters Mill, Ohio, the killer’s signature -—Roman numerals ritualistically carved into each victim’s abdomen- —matches the MO of four unsolved murders from 16 years earlier. Police chief Kate Burkholder, who’s reluctant to dredge up the past, must keep secret that she knows why the old murders stopped. Not satisfied with the case’s progress, local politicos set up a multijurisdictional task force to assist, including a law-enforcement agent battling his own demons. The added scrutiny and the rising body count threaten to push the chief over the edge. Adept at creating characters with depth and nuance, Castillo smoothly integrates their backstories into a well-paced plot that illuminates the divide between the Amish and English worlds.

So Sworn to Silence is a HELL of a beginning to a series.

Written in 2009, the book introduces readers to Kate, Police chief of her home town Painters Mills. Kate was born into the Amish community there, before she chose not to join the church and was banned. Instead, she carved her own path and found herself police chief.

Kate is kind of badass. She’s got a heap of baggage in her past, that affected her profoundly, and she is still bearing those scars – scars that she is reminded of when a series of murders happens in her town. Immediately, she is confused bc she killed the man she knew committed murders with exactly the same MO 16 years ago, except he’s back. So what’s going on?

That fact segues into an introduction to her brother and sister, who both know what happened. She isn’t really close to either – because she keeps them at a distance bc of their past, and she has been banned from the community. They have their own baggage to deal with from her actions, but none of the three have really worked through them.

Her brother in particular was frustrating and highlighted that there are parts of the Amish culture I will never understand. The other parts are bridged through Kate.


Kate is fascinating. Her cop side hides the vulnerability she still has, the doubts and the guilt from her actions in her past. She is determined to solve this case, but knows her past is holding her back. She’s flawed, but will call herself on her shit.

She’s worked hard to build her little police force, and every secondary character in that capacity respects her, and likes her. Town politicians however, annoy her.

Especially when they call in out of town help in the form of John, a federal agent. He is broken himself, for different and very similar reasons to Kate, and this is his last chance to salvage his career. They have a fascinating dynamic – both cautious, both liking each other and still wary of each other.

The ending

The investigation is intense, and Kate’s determination to solve this case more so — and guys, it’s completely edge-of-your-seat stuff. It’s GOOD.

But I can’t decide about the ending: Kate is the main character, the one that pushes this narrative along. I considered John a secondary character to her, but it’s also clear this is a set up for a long-term relationship.

However, I can’t deny that the ending bugged me bc it took Kate’s agency away. She was just there, while John brought the whole case to its final ending.

Then I looked at the year this was published and thought – 2009. This book is old and is a product of its time really. I count this book a 4 star read bc everything else was just so perfect for a thriller – but I can’t make up my mind about the ending.


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