Death Notice Review
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The town of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, has always been a quiet place. Crime is nearly non-existent—and the town’s police chief, Kat Campbell, is perfectly happy that way. But then George Winnick’s body is found along the side of the road, crudely embalmed and contained inside a homemade coffin. It’s the town’s first murder—and Kat has no idea how to handle it—but she’s determined to keep her town safe.

The state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations immediately sends a task force, led by Nick Donnelly, to help Kat with the case. Nick suspects that George’s death was the work of the so-called Betsy Ross Killer, but the case takes an unexpected turn when Henry Goll, the town’s obituary writer, comes forward with a fax that he received about the murder—before it took place.

Author and journalist Todd Ritter holds very little back in his first novel. It’s gritty and suspenseful—and it’s often surprisingly, stomach-churningly graphic. Once you finish reading the opening murder scene—which is later followed by the autopsy and an excruciatingly detailed explanation of the embalming process—you’ll be well aware that Death Notice isn’t the best book to read during your lunch break. You might not want to read it before bed, either—since it could cause some disturbing nightmares. So it might be best to read it somewhere bright and cheery—like the beach.

While it’s definitely an intense novel, though, it takes a little too long for the story to pick up its pace. Around the 100-page mark, Kat complains that nothing’s happening—that they still haven’t had any solid leads—and I had to agree with her complaint. Ritter builds the case slowly, taking the time to develop his main characters, illustrate their surroundings, and explain everything in great detail. But while the detailed descriptions might help readers get a solid grasp on the horrors of the crime—and the character development might help them understand the characters—the relaxed pace may cause others to set the book aside and never return.

It’s a shame, too--because if they do set the book aside, they’ll be missing out on one breathtaking finale. Even though the excessive details and development may tempt you to give up early on, they all work together in the end—and the last 100 pages are loaded with white-knuckle suspense, as the story speeds to its chilling (and unexpected) conclusion.

Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy the last 100 pages without working your way through the first 100. But, despite its uneven pacing (and its gory details), Death Notice is a respectable debut—and, in the end, you’ll be rewarded for your effort.

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