Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Death Notice"

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 works for The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Death Notice, his debut mystery, and reported the following:
Considering that a lot of Death Notice deals with the rituals of deaths — obituaries, embalming, graveyards — it’s incredibly fitting that the action on Page 69 takes place in a funeral home. Earlier that day, Kat Campbell, police chief of Perry Hollow, Pa., found a resident stuffed into a homemade coffin on the side of the road. Whoever killed him also tried to embalm the body. Making the case trickier, the killer faxed a death notice of his victim to the local newspaper — before he died.

Page 69 is told from the point of view of Henry Goll, the obituary writer who found the death notice. Henry is reclusive and ornery, mostly because of a disfiguring accident that occurred years earlier. Dragged unwillingly into the case, he stops by Perry Hollow’s only funeral home to talk with the receptionist, Deana Swann, the woman who usually faxes obituary information to his office.

Henry and Deana make up a key relationship in the book, and this scene is when they first meet face to face. Deana is friendly and open, even inviting Henry to lunch. Henry, because of the scars and burn marks that mar his face, is distrustful.
Henry became convinced her motives were suspect. She wasn’t interested in him. Just like the patrons of a freak show, she was interested in his face. Its lines and scars and deformities.
But the most important part of Page 69 comes when Henry prepares to leave the funeral home. As he exits, Kat Campbell enters with Nick Donnelly, the state police investigator brought in to help with the case.
He turned and reached for the door, surprised to see it was already halfway open. Someone was on the other side, pushing the door so forcefully Henry had to hop backward to avoid being struck by it. That’s when Kat Campbell burst inside, riding a gust of frigid air.

With her was a man Henry had never seen before. Although he was dressed in civilian clothes, Henry assumed he was a cop of some sort. He and the chief shared identical scowls as they passed, barely noticing his presence.
Kat, Nick and Henry have already been introduced to readers, but this is the first time they’re together in the same place at the same time. And although Henry says nothing to them in the funeral home, he returns to them the next day after getting more involved in the case. For the rest of the book, they form a trio who pursue the killer over the course of a year. So Page 69 is the introduction of a group of people who will later become a team — a very important development.
Learn more about Death Notice and its author at Todd Ritters' website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue