As Chief of Police in sleepy Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, writing speeding tickets and investigating the occasional robbery is about as challenging as Kat Campbell’s job gets.
That changes in dramatic fashion when one of the town’s residents is found murdered, left alongside a country road in a homemade coffin, lips sewn shut, drained of blood and partially embalmed.
Knowing the investigation is beyond her two person department’s capabilities, Campbell welcomes the arrival of Lt. Nick Donnelly of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Investigation. It seems the method of killing is similar to that of the “Betsy Ross” serial killer – so named because of the killer’s creative sewing skill – Donnelly’s task force has been chasing for over a year.
Complicating matters, the obituary writer for the Perry Hollow Gazette, Henry Goll, was faxed a death notice for the murder victim… date and time stamped prior to the murder.
Himself a bit of a mystery, his scars from a tragic auto accident and reclusive behavior having earned him the nickname Henry Ghoul, Henry finds himself a reluctant participant in the investigation when additional death notices from the killer are sent to him, each foretelling the next victim’s time of death to be a mere 30 minutes from the time Henry receives them. It’s literally a race against the clock to catch the killer.
The writing in Death Notice perfectly captures the feel of a small, rural town. Author Todd Ritter forsakes overly wordy prose in favor of straightforward storytelling that the reader can slip right into like a comfy old sweater, and the characters are so richly drawn readers will feel as though they’ve known the residents of Perry Hollow forever. Even touches such as Campbell being a single mother to a son with Down Syndrome and Donnelly having lost a sister to a serial killer – things that could be clumsy and clichéd in the wrong hands – are handled in such matter-of-fact fashion that they blend seamlessly into the story Ritter expertly weaves.
Ritter also manages to work several, believable, just when you thought it was over it’s not twists into the story before ultimately bringing things to a scorching conclusion, and the final showdown with the killer involves one of the most squirm-inducing sequences I’ve read in quite some time.
Though the story is brought to a satisfying conclusion and there is no obvious set-up for a sequel left hanging, there is room for Ritter to take the characters in that direction should he so choose. I, for one, certainly hope he does. Death Notice may be Ritter’s first novel, but whether he gives us a sequel or something entirely fresh you can rest assured it won’t be his last.