Review: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo

In the small town of Painters Mill in Ohio a cop doing the rounds on the graveyard shift hears screaming. When he investigates he finds a terrified, trembling Amish man who tells him that there is a dead man the nearby house. There is more than a dead man though, all seven members of the Plank family have been brutally killed. Kate Burkholder, the town’s Police Chief, at first wonders if the family’s father, Amos, killed his family then himself but it soon becomes clear that Amos was murdered too and the hunt is on to find a motive and the killer.

I thought the first book in this series was a solidly entertaining read and rather looked forward to this follow-up. Unfortunately for me it had more of the elements I didn’t like about the first book and fewer of the elements I had enjoyed. Sigh.

Firstly there’s the violence. The aftermath of the brutal slaying of the Plank family takes four chapters (almost an hour of the audio book) to describe in extremely graphic detail that was completely and totally unnecessary. A little bit further on some video footage of the killings and other unspeakable acts is discovered and I endured lengthy descriptions of all the footage. Sure it was surrounded by the main character saying how awful it made her feel but either she or Castillo herself is fascinated by it because there’s no other reason for it to be so voluminous. It certainly served no storytelling purpose because in the end the only message I came away with was ‘evil exists’ which I already knew and didn’t need to be reminded by yet another depiction of raped and tortured women.

Then there’s the ‘hinky factor’. Of course characters in fiction don’t have to behave in the same way that real world people would. But they do have to behave in keeping with the story’s internal logic and, to be vaguely credible, a procedural has to have some semblance of a relationship to its real world counterpart. Pray for Silence really had neither of these elements. The two main characters, Kate and her love interest John Tomasetti from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Identification, moped about like a couple of lovesick teenagers whenever they were together and I’d be surprised if this Kate Burkholder could hold down a job in any police force in any country with poorly executed ‘sting’ operations and inability to control herself when confronted with nasty people.

There were some moments of the kind of thing that made the first book so strong including further depictions of the complicated interplay between the town’s Amish community and the ‘Englishers’ but overall I found these elements overshadowed by the gratuitous violence and meandering, soppy plot. The crime was solved almost as an afterthought which, for me, is rarely the sign of a good book. I’m sure more romantic readers would enjoy the romance element of the book but I suspect they’re exactly the ones who would be turned off by the graphic and copious violence so I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to.

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My rating 2/5

Narrator Kathleen McInerney; Publisher Macmillan Audio [2010]; Length 11hours 28minutes

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Other people aren’t nearly as troubled by this as I am so do check out a review at Lesa’s Book Critiques or hit Amazon where the majority of reviews thus far are positive. What do I know after all?

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9 Responses to Review: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo

  1. Bernadette,
    I totally get what threw you off on this book. I haven’t read it but I get that way too with extreme graphic depictions, which are pretty much unnecessary. A crime can be discussed without the gratuitous details, especially when you imagine some readers may have actually experienced similar events and would not even dream of having to relive them. I had to give up Jeffrey Deaver and Ridley Pearson for this reason…it was just toooo much gore.

    On a side note, did the book you won ever arrive? You may have told me but right now my brain is shut down.

    On a second side note, if I paid you via paypal is there anyway you could purchase some AU books and ship them to me? Only if you have time, but I’ve looked for a few that won recent awards and can’t get them from Amazon. I’ll try Book Depository next, they may have them. I could pay you your costs and postage and a little extra for your time if you are open to that.

    Many thanks, and I totally understand if you are too busy.

    And what do you think of Lee Child crime novels? I’m hearing alot of buzz but haven’t read one so far. Input appreciated! Amy

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  2. Bernadette – I’m sorry you were disappointed in this one. I’d hoped, too, that it would be a good read, and it was going to go on my TBR list. But I have to say, I’m not much of a one for an awful lot of gratuitous violence, so maybe I’ll skip this one..

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  3. kathy durkin says:

    Gratuitous violence–NO! If a book has it and I really like the rest of the book, I skip it or I speedread right over it. None of us has to read this stuff. Frankly, it keeps me up nights and scares me and I won’t take the garbage out for nights. We get the point. There was a horrible murder and/or torture, rape and other horrendous acts.
    One writer I read about at “Detectives Beyond Borders” said he wrote this because he really wanted the reader to feel the pain of what had been done to this person.
    I do not want to feel a tortured person’s pain! I don’t need it. I know it’s terrible and I’ll think of that. Also, it’s kind of a writer’s psychological torture of a reader to aim for that.
    Do we have to go into a recovery group after reading books like this?
    Also, one big point: We have imaginations! We can imagine the person’s situation and his/her feelings about it. That’s sufficient. There are a lot of feelings in terrible situations where my imagining of a scenario is far too sufficient, don’t need more.
    Can’t writers think about this?
    I often think writing gratuitous violence, gore, blood is a sensational way to sell books, and is often seen as a substitute for very good writing–which it isn’t! It’s a lazy way to write, a shortcut.

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  4. Maxine says:

    What a pity, Bernadette. Like you, I enjoyed the first to the extent that I could mentally put the explicit (unnecessary) bits to one side. Seems as if the second has too much of that plus exacerbates the weaknesses of the first (the author wrote romances before turning to crime, apparently).
    Amy, the Jack Reacher books are OK comfort reads. They go very much by a formula. Not in the same class as, eg Michael Connolley’s work – if you’re going to invest in a long series set in the US, that’s the one I’d recommend above Lee Child, if you don’t mind me butting in.

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  5. Kathy I agree that people who use graphic descriptions of violence are being lazy, that’s exactly what I thought when reading this book. And to be perfectly honest I don’t think such descriptions really do help readers to ‘feel the pain’ of either the victims or the investigators. A lot of research has been done into those ‘shock’ advertisements that sometimes are used for campaigns to stop drink driving and things like that – where graphic scenes are used to show the consequences of drink driving (mutilated bodies etc) and it turns out that people watching basically ‘switch off’. Anyway there are books that have moved me far more and given a far better idea of the pain involved for all that have contained no violence at all.

    Amy I’ve only read one Lee Child novel and I found it fairly dull. I’m told it’s not the best example of his work (I read Gone Tomorrow ) but I found Jack Reacher a bit of a non-event (there’s no depth to his character and the whole “i only own 9 possessions” thing was boring) and the book was a bit too heavy on descriptions of gun models and other boring details but had no real character depth or motivation. I agree with Maxine there are better writers of American crime fiction (though Child is English his series is set in the US). I will email you about the book buying stuff 🙂

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  6. kathy durkin says:

    Yes, I had read about one writer who wrote in-depth about torture so readers would feel the victim’s pain–I so do not need that when I’m reading for pleasure and escapism. I know torture is horrible without reading this and I do not want to feel that level of pain while I’m reading to enjoy myself.
    On Lee Child, I read a few books that I liked, then read a few more recent ones which were basically one violent scene after another and, in one book, the main character’s relishing of it, which turned me off. So no more Lee Child.
    However, I agree on Michael Connelly. If I were going on a real vacation (instead of a global reading vacation) or on a train or air trip, or wanted a good, easy, but interesting read, I’d pick his books. His cop series about Harry Bosch is quite good and no matter which one you choose, it’s a good read.

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  7. 4 chapters? Waaaay beyond necessary. Thanks for an honest review — I won’t be reading it.

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  8. Denise says:

    I personally LOVED the book I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was this suspenful, yes the details were graphic but the fact that I know this is fictional made it a little bit easier to deal with. This is the first Linda Castillo book I have read but I am now a fan and found this site looking for more of her books. Especially loved the sappy romantic ending (yes romantic!).

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