"Shamed" by Linda Castillo.

"Shamed" by Linda Castillo. (Macmillan Publishers/TNS)

Linda Castillo's excellent series delves deep into the culture of the Amish who are a part of the Painters Mill, Ohio, community that police chief Kate Burkholder oversees. A vital component of the series is the insightful way that Castillo respectfully explores the Amish traditions and rules while also showing the moral complexities that can arise in any community, especially one that is insular. The Amish's dress and beliefs may be different but the vagaries among its people are universal.

Castillo continues her high standards in "Shamed," proving again in her 11th novel that she still has much to show readers about the Amish community.

"Shamed" begins when Mary Yoder, an Amish widow, is murdered in an abandoned farmhouse and her seven-year-old granddaughter, Elsie Helmuth, kidnapped while five-year-old sister, Annie, is able to escape. Traumatized, Annie is only able to tell Kate that the devil took her sister.

A missing child galvanizes Kate and her department as well as the local sheriff's office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The search is complicated when Kate learns that Elsie is a special needs child, a situation the family-oriented Amish consider to be "a gift." Add to that is keeping communications open with the Helmuths, who, like their Amish neighbors, do not have a phone or a motorized vehicle.

The investigation takes a different route when Kate learns that Elsie is not the biological daughter of the Helmuths, who have seven other children, and that her adoption is still shrouded in secrecy. Elsie has Cohen syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that's slightly more common among the Amish "owing to marriage patterns and a smaller gene pool," recounts Kate.

Kate and her fellow law enforcement officers become more frantic about Elsie's safety hour by hour, especially when other murders and attempted killings become linked to the kidnapping.

The briskly paced "Shamed" intensifies with each chapter as Castillo uses the plot to examine the Amish culture. Raised Amish, Kate left the community, but always must reckon with herself that a part of her will "always be Amish." While she maintains much respect for the Amish, she also is aware of the problems that can fester among the people.

The intelligent, insightful Kate continues to be an appealing character with Castillo delivering new sides to her persona with each outing. "Shamed" is an outstanding addition to this solid series.

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'Shamed,' by Linda Castillo. Minotaur, $26.99, 320 pages

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