Why Isn't This A Film? - Death Notice

What have we got here then?

Death Notice is the first novel from American author Todd Ritter. A Murder Mystery, the book first appeared on shelves in late 2010.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Heroine, Police Chief Kat Campbell, starts finding bodies laid out in home-made coffins with their lips sewn shut and pennies in their eyes. This is a problem. What's more, the killer faxes the titular Death Notices to the local paper, ahead of the actual time of death. With each new death notice, Kat faces a race against time to stop the killer's spree and catch him or her in the act.

Interesting. Is there something more?

The side characters provide the rest of the interest. Alternatively aiding or hindering Kat is Nick Donnelly, head of a special task force sent to catch the killer with a mysterious past of his own. Meanwhile, newspaperman Henry Goll wonders why he has been chosen to receive the faxed notices, whilst a cast of terrified extras rattle around the small town of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

It's pulpy. Which of course means 'yes and no'. The mystery element is compelling enough to keep you reading, but not quite a page-turner. The hero and heroine and likeable enough to follow. The action is thankfully limited and it avoids some of the clichés (the initial battle between local and national law enforcement is resolved mercifully quickly).


There's so much pulp. A now-jailed killer is given the name Ken Miller (swap the first two letters of each name), there's a drastically large amount of near misses and a mammoth amount of clichés are hit square on. Ritter also goes for grisly description over genuine tense horror, which works in making you turn away from the page, surely not the desired action when reading a book. So-so, the final verdict.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Currently, rather awful. The Murder Mystery, for whatever reason, is in the doldrums as a film genre. Any new ones that do make it out (Texas Killing Fields), beyond the also thin-on-the-ground blockbusters (Dragon Tattoo) are awful. Franchises that used to be a fairly sure bet (the Alex Cross films) now seem to be struggling to get off the ground without turning themselves into something new (and awful-looking). There even seems to have been an aversion to this sort of thing from TV recently. The genre needs something to make a comeback before someone will stick their neck out on a limb and touch fairly 'small' stuff like this. When that happens then yes, sure, there's plenty here that feels filmic and Ritter has just published the second book (Bad Moon) to focus on Campbell. Studios love a franchise.

But who'd star in it?

Hilary Swank is about the right age for Campbell, and she did 'small-town-police-chief' well a few years ago in Insomnia. Alternatives could include Naomi Harris, who will be coming off the back of Bond very shortly, or Chloë Sevigny, who can play small-town-tough with a similar gusto to Swank (and yes, Boys Don't Cry has clearly paid a part in my thought process here). Patrick Wilson's star has been on the rise recently and he would fit the mould of state trooper Nick. Henry Goll is a difficult casting; tough and large but with massive insecurity problems due to a scar on his face: think someone near to Dwayne Johnson's build perhaps, but without the natural charisma. Like I said: a difficult casting.

Will it be any good?

There's always a chance, but this is just so pulpy. It is crying out for someone with a bit of vision to give it darkness and depth. It will probably get McG.

Anything else I should know about it?

As mentioned, Ritter's second book, Bad Moon is out now. It focuses on the cold case of a boy who went missing in Perry Hollow on the same night as Neil Armstrong's lunar landing.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.

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