Friday, April 3, 2015

Review: DEATH FALLS by Todd Ritter

DEATH FALLS by Todd Ritter (HarperCollins/Maze, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

July 20, 1969. A date etched forever in history, as people all around the world were transfixed as they listened to astronaut Neil Armstrong utter the famous words, "That's one small step for man..."

A moment in time no one would ever forget. But for the Olmstead family, the day man landed on the Moon would never be forgotten for a far worse reason: it was the day their life was torn asunder. Nine-year-old Charlie disappears from his home, and his bike is later found caught above a powerful local waterfall. His body is never recovered; he's never seen again. Perry Hollow Police Chief Jim Campbell and everyone else in the town assumes the worst. Except for one person.

Forty years later Eric Olmstead, Charlie's brother and now a famous author, returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to bury his mother. Police Chief Kat Campbell, daughter of Jim, finds herself confronted by the past: an old colleague and her old boyfriend need her help. Eric's mother never believed Charlie died at that waterfall on that day, and searched for him for years. Together they quickly discover that her secret obsession uncovered clues that maybe he wasn't the only victim.

But if Charlie didn't die at the falls, what really happened? And why did other children seem to disappear on key dates in the US lunar programme? What was going on, all those years ago?

Ritter creates a compelling story that hurtles along, setting the hook into the reader quickly and drawing us into a twisting tale of secrets kept and found. Originally published as BAD MOON in 2011, DEATH FALLS marks the second appearance of Perry Hollow Police Chief Kat Campbell, who is an interesting character caught between upholding her father's legacy and uncovering whether mistakes were made in the initial investigation. Could something have been done to save Charlie? Was the obvious incorrect?

Small-town Pennsylvania is brought to life well by Ritter - the peaceful ordinariness that can be a facade for plenty of secrets and lies going on behind closed doors. As the trio scratch at long-forgotten history more and more comes to light. Little lies became part of an accepted truth - but Eric is determined to follow his mother's last wish and find out what really happened to Charlie. I found myself completely absorbed in the tale Ritter was telling, curious about what had happened, and would happen. I cared about what would happen to Eric, Kat and the others, and enjoyed trying to work through various red herrings and clues, pondering what was true and what was not. And why were the moon landings so important?

The story spirals on itself but is smoothly told. You can tell you're in the hands of a fine storyteller. Even when twists are expected, they're delivered in fun and original ways that still surprise.

After reading DEATH FALLS, I would definitely read more of Todd Ritter.


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