Along with the rest of the world, on July 20, 1969, the residents of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania were transfixed by the images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. One in particular, young Charlie Olmstead, was so overcome with excitement he begged his dad to let him go outside to look at the moon, convinced he’d be able to see Armstrong up there.
His father relented and young Charlie peddled off into the night on his bike, never to be seen again. A subsequent search turned up Charlie’s badly battered bike at the base of a local waterfall, and it was concluded by the police that Charlie had suffered a similar fate, his body washed away. A tragedy, but just an accident.
Forty years later Eric Olmstead, just an infant at the time his older brother disappeared, returns to Perry Hollow to tend to his mother in her dying days. Her final request of Eric: Find him. Find your brother. Apparently his mother always believed Charlie was kidnapped, and feeling the obligation to at least make a token effort to fulfill her request, Eric hires private investigator Nick Donnelly, whose foundation is dedicated to solving cold-cases.
In addition to being a former Pennsylvania State Police investigator, Donnelly is also specifically familiar with Perry Hollow, having previously worked with Perry Hollow Police Chief Kat Campbell on a serial killing investigation (Death Notice). Nick looks Kat up when he gets to town, and together they meet with Eric, who has discovered something interesting while cleaning out his mother’s house – a board containing a map of the state with six locations marked in red, each accompanied by a clipping from a newspaper detailing a missing child.
Not only does it look like Mrs. Olmstead may have been right about Charlie being abducted, he apparently wasn’t the only one. Five other boys around Charlie’s age also went missing in rural Pennsylvania within a few years of Charlie. What could be written off as coincidence becomes chilling when the investigators realize each of the abductions occurred the same day an Apollo Mission successfully landed on the moon… starting with Charlie’s.
Though the events in Bad Moon unfold over barely a three day timeframe, there is nothing about the book which feels hurried. In his debut, Death Notice, author Todd Ritter created a story fraught with tension which rocketed along propelled by the investigators’ race to identify and capture a serial killer before another innocent fell victim to his madness. In this spectacular second outing Ritter once again builds his story around the actions of a serial killer, but this time instead of a race against the clock scenario Ritter looks to an entirely different source to provide the tension which propels the story: relationships and secrets.
As Campbell and Donnelly begin digging into the forty year old disappearances they discover it’s not the cold trail which is their biggest impediment to piecing together the facts, but rather the long simmering secrets of a small town. In unravelling the mystery of the decades old abductions Ritter examines the bonds between people – parent to child, husband to wife, brother to brother, neighbor to neighbor – and how people’s perceptions, both of themselves and their obligations, can drive and distort their actions over time. Ritter delicately peels back layer after layer of Perry Hollow, showing how the same events can both unite and tear a town apart. The result is a simply stunning piece of writing.
With Death Notice Ritter served notice that he was an author to watch, and with Bad Moon he shows that his talent undeniably continues to rise.
Bad Moon is available from Minotaur Books (ISBN: 978-0312622817)