There are no secrets in a small town. Everyone knows everyone else, if not by name, then by face, by status, by reputation. People can try to keep a secret in a small town. (And they do. All the time.) But the law of averages is against them. Nine times out of ten, it will be exposed.
As a result, small towns make fantastic settings for crime narratives. All those secrets and scandals and petty rivalries just begging to be dragged screaming into the light. Think Peyton Place. Or Sharp Objects. Or Twin Peaks.
I speak from experience. I grew up in a small town. Danville, Pennsylvania. A little hamlet nestled beside a river with an unwieldy Native American name – the Susquehanna. My father worked at the local power plant. My mother was a clerk at the town’s largest bank. They knew everybody. Everybody knew them. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone in their orbit noticing.
But back to secrets. My hometown had plenty. There was the pretty transfer student who wore oversized sweatshirts and then vanished from class for two months. When she returned, she was a mother. There was the girl carrying on an affair with a married man – the father of one of her classmates. Then there was the murder that happened just down the road. I was in school at the time. Had I been home, I would have heard the gunshots echoing through the quiet, still afternoon.
The victim was a man helping his mistress move out of the home she shared with her cuckolded husband. When he arrived with a pickup truck, the husband was there to greet him with a shotgun. He took two shots to the head, dying instantly on the front porch. The gunman was found innocent by reason of insanity and sentenced to several years in a mental institution. The wife was suddenly free of both husband and lover, leading many to whisper that was her plan all along. The gunman’s daughter from a previous marriage sat next to me in class.
Like I said, everyone knows everyone else. Everyone is connected.
That’s why I decided to set my Kat Campbell mystery series in the fictional small town of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania. It’s a lot like my hometown. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. (And not-so-innocent, as the case may be.)
In Perry Hollow, as in real life, crimes have impact. Everyone knows the victims. Everyone knows the killers. Secrets, of which there are many, have a way of leaking out. It’s the small-town way.
Blog by Todd Ritter
Latest book: Death Falls