By Derek Gunn
On the same night that Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, ten-year-old Charlie Olmstead jumped on his bike to see if there was some way he could get a better look. It was the last anyone ever saw of him. After Perry Hollow Police Chief Jim Campbell found Charlie’s bike caught in the water above Sunset Falls, he assumed the worst. Everyone did—except Charlie’s mother.
Todd Ritter’s next book in the Kat Campbell begins in 1969 when Charlie Olmstead disappears on the night Neil Armstrong steps out onto the moon and continues into the present day as China launches its own mission to the Moon. The past and present continue to be closely interlinked throughout the novel as Kat and Nick Donnelly reopen the investigation into the boy’s disappearance long after everyone had forgotten. Cold Case stories are popular at the moment but this stands above anything I have read before. The writing is crisp, the characters are strong and the story tight. Everything you want in a thriller.
The book includes many of the characters from the first book, Death Notice. A year had passed since the Grim Reaper caused such death and havoc in the small town and not everyone has recovered from the trauma. I had not read the first book but the characters are so well written you won’t feel lost. However, if you haven’t read the first book my advice is to rush out and get it before Bad Moon appears on the shelves – you still have ten days so rush out now – well, after you finish my article. You won’t be disappointed. This book is fantastic.
You see, Charlie wasn’t the only boy to go missing at the time. But no-one pieced it together except for Charlie’s mother and no-one was prepared to listen to her. The timing of the Moon landing is not just a throw away date either and the connection to lunar landings and missions is revealed during the storyline. The story has shades of It by Stephen King, and in this I mean that Todd Ritter has managed to capture the feel of a small town, the horror of missing children and the sense of a great evil roaming the country so well that I was reminded of the great work of King. I don’t say this lightly either, Stephen King is one of my favourite authors and I mean this as the greatest complement.
This story, though, is firmly routed in reality. There are enough red herrings throughout to throw you off the scent; I did manage to see through a few, though certainly not all. The story never falters, the pace is brisk and the investigation never takes a leap that hasn’t been meticulously planned and revealed just when the author wanted it to be.
There is also the very real threat of similar disappearances in the present day, you will see why when you get through the first few chapters, and this injects a sense of running against the clock throughout the rest of the book. The story is set over three days though it is very hard to finish a day and not keep reading, no matter what time it is.
It is difficult to say too much more without giving details away and that would be unforgiveable. You will enjoy it much more if you let Todd Ritter reveal the plot and clues. The ending is surprising, shocking and filled with suspense, danger and breakneck pace. I dare anyone to put the book down for the last five chapters.
As well as being able to read this one before it was released I was also lucky enough to get to ask Todd a few questions about his heroine, his approach and his thoughts on the future.
When did you decide that writing was what you wanted to do?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where reading was enjoyed and encouraged. My mother always seemed to be reading, even when watching TV. So I loved books and stories and reading. I was an imaginative child and had an inkling that it might be fun to create stories for other people to enjoy. That feeling was galvanized in the sixth grade, when a short story I wrote got a big laugh in English class. I was hooked after that.
Were you surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reviews for Death Notice?
I was shocked, actually. Completely shocked. Part of it stems from the fact that I’m my worst critic. I’m so hard on myself when I’m writing and rarely satisfied. I knew the plot — small town terrorized by a serial killer who sends advance notice of his crimes to the local newspaper — was an intriguing one. But I had no idea how my writing or the characters would be received. So it was great — not to mention a huge relief — to see reviewers respond so positively to the characters and what I did with them.
Your depictions of small town life are startlingly accurate – did you grow up in a small town?
I did. A small town in Pennsylvania called Danville. Perry Hollow isn’t really based on my hometown. It’s smaller and far different geographically than Danville. But the attitudes and people are the same. Everybody knows each other on a first-name basis. There’s gossip, of course, and scandals and disagreements. But in the end, people look out for each other. That’s the great thing about small towns. In times of need, they’ve got your back.
The interesting thing with Perry Hollow is that it had to reinvent itself after its main employer closed down. My hometown had to do the same thing, as did many towns of its size in Pennsylvania. I wanted that small-town resiliency to shine through in the book.
Where did the character of Kat Campbell come from?
The idea for Death Notice initially started with the character of Henry Goll, the obituary writer who receives the killer’s warnings. I envisioned him as a physically intimidating but emotionally damaged character, and I wanted to have the police presence in the story be the exact opposite. A woman. Short. A single mom. Generally happy but a bit overworked. That’s how Kat was born.
During the writing of the book, Kat eventually became the main character. She pretty much took over. I love writing her chapters. I love seeing the events of the book through her eyes. And I made sure to avoid cliches when writing her. She’s tough, but not improbably so. She’s loving and kind, but not in an unbearably sweet way. She’s short. She’s slightly overweight. She’s not a supermodel who falls in love with the handsome state police detective. She’s just your average American single mom trying to do the best job she can.
The irony is that when it came time to write Bad Moon, I didn’t even think of including Henry Goll, even though readers of Death Notice really responded to him. But I had to include Kat. She’s tougher after the events of Death Notice but also a little more bruised and wary.
How do you write? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
I go through long periods of laziness, followed by bursts of exhausting work. I tend to write late at night, because I’ve always been a night owl and I find there are fewer distractions then than in the daytime. I am a big fan of outlining. I can’t write a word unless I know exactly what’s going to happen and where the plot is going to go. That’s not to say that I don’t change course midstream. I often veer off the outline and take a few detours, but I always like to know where I’m going to end up.
What are your views on the eBook phenomena — is it a help or a hindrance?
I think it’s still too new and unwieldy to help anyone. Right now, it’s just a wilderness that’s very crowded and very confusing. Traditionally published authors are being drowned out by self-published ones who think they’re going to get rich by offering their work for 99 cents. As a result, no one is benefitting. I love my Kindle. I love being ably to buy a book at the touch of a button. And I think there’s room for both traditionally published authors and this giant crop of “indie” writers. I just don’t think the right balance has been struck.
Having said that, I’m trying my hand at the ebook-only thing. There’s a Kat Campbell novella out there called Vicious Circle. It’s not a major work. Just a fun little read for fans of Kat and Perry Hollow. And that’s where I think ebooks have the chance to really be useful. I love the idea of writers doing stories or novellas to complement their traditionally published books and to have a little fun with genres or styles.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
Bad Moon follows Kat Campbell as she conducts a present-day search for a boy who vanished during the first moon landing in 1969. It’s about mothers and sons. It’s about family secrets and how they spread from one generation to the next. And it’s about how, just like the moon affects the tides, the past has a constant pull on the present.
In between work and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
The worst part about being a writer is not having enough time to read. I know people like Stephen King make it a priority, but I just can’t seem to find the right balance. Maybe one day I’ll master time management and be able to read as much as I write. That being said, there is always time for Laura Lippman, Louise Penny and Stephen King himself.
What’s next for Kat?
I’m trying to figure that one out myself. I love her and I love Perry Hollow, but I’m also itching to try my hand at something else. Maybe a standalone novel that world’s removed from that small town in Pennsylvania.
The novella Todd refers to, Vicious Circles, will be released soon on eBook formats and will cost 99c. This looks to be well worth chasing up when it comes out. I’ll certainly be one of the first in the queue. Now all I have to do it make room on my over-loaded Kindle. While I would love to see anything new from Todd I do hope he continues with the Perry Hollow series soon as the characters have a way of getting under your skin and I am eager to see what happens next. Either way, roll on Vicious Circles. I can’t wait.
Todd Ritter was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. An editor and journalist for more than 15 years, Todd began his career as a film critic while attending Penn State University. Currently, he is a copy editor The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper. BAD MOON is his second novel.
To learn more about Todd, please visit his website.