In this humorous and captivating first novel, Porter Shreve lets Gordon Hatch, intrepid second-string obituary writer, tell us his own story as he sits, so he believes, on the threshold of his destiny: to be a great newspaperman, just like his father. When the young, insistent widow Alicia Whiting calls in an obituary and woos him with the promise of a story, Hatch is doubtful but captivated. He follows her step by step into romance, and then, quite possibly, to the very story that will bring him the fame he seeks.
Readers who enjoy a wry chuckle at the expense of their heroes will enjoy The Obituary Writer. We see far more clearly than does the earnest and deluded young stringer that the story around the next corner is more than likely not what he expects. What captivates the readers, though, is that it's not necessarily what we expect either. Shreve strings both the deluded Hatch and his wiser readers along, twisting and turning his story in unexpected ways, even to the last page.
Along the way, Shreve introduces us to a panoply of deftly drawn eccentrics: first-string obituary writer Dick Ritger, who wears a mouthguard to prevent chewing himself from the inside out; the former girlfriend, Thea, who has moved to town just to be near Hatch; Hatch's opera-loving mother and her incessant phone calls; the ghouls who frequent the crime scenes Hatch attends during his off-time and who are eager to share their collection of corpse photos; Alicia's sister-in-law, who despises the young widow and fills Hatch's head with suspicions even as he frequents Alicia's bed; and Alicia herself, the lovely young widow with secrets.
Best of all, Shreve gives us Hatch himself, whose delusions and exaggerations threaten to unmask him at any moment. Knowing his mother expects his own greatness to approach his father's, Hatch has been telling her and the mysterious Alicia that he is an undercover investigator, involved in a story on the verge of breaking wide open. What he doesn't understand—and what is both delightful and intriguing for the reader in this difficult-to-put-down first novel—is that Hatch's newsman's nose is not proven yet, and the story he expects may be something altogether different.
D. Michelle Adkerson is a writer and editor in Nashville.