Gravedigger: Prodigal Son opens with the brutal murder of a mobster in the usually peaceful town of Starfall, New Jersey. The killer is described as a large, hooded, beast-like figure, and he leaves the body in a shallow grave, to be found the next morning by local police chief Jim Orkin. Before long, another murder takes place. As before, the mutilated body is left in a makeshift grave, and again its some lowlife criminal that’s been targeted.

The dramatic opening pages raise several questions for the reader: who, or indeed what, is the killer, suitably dubbed the Gravedigger by the locals? And what is the relationship between the Gravedigger and the victims?

As the story unfolds and we learn more about Orkin and the other central character, Steve Borden, the lawyer for some of the criminals that have been targeted by the mysterious murderer, things get even murkier. We learn that Orkin, once hailed in Starfall as something of a local hero, has a checkered past, and Borden’s morality as a defender of the indefensible is called into question. And when the Gravedigger’s perceived vigilantism starts to gain support from the media and the public, the book starts to ask the reader some dark philosophical questions of its own.

Gravedigger: Prodigal Son is a crime mystery thriller written by retired NYC police offer Billy Pepitone. As you’d expect from a writer who has been immersed in the world of crime for over 20 years, the dialogue feels authentic, yet the story does have an other-worldly element as we try to figure out if the murderer is man or beast.

It throws you into the action and thunders along, packing a lot of story into its 120 pages. On one hand, this helps keep the reader’s interest levels up, but the downside is that you aren’t giving much time with each character. The opening chapters introduce numerous people, but apart from Orkin and Borden, the descriptions of each are not that rich, and I found it hard to remember who was who at times. The book is also marred occasionally by some odd punctuation, such as a lack of ellipses or dash at the end of interrupted text.

But these are minor issues that won’t affect most people’s overall enjoyment of the story. Gravedigger: Prodigal Son is a fun mystery thriller that drifts nicely from whodunnit to horror, thanks to the ambiguity of the murderer at the centre of the story. And if you like the book, please note that Billy Pepitone and his Emmy-winning brother Joseph have also made a Gravedigger movie.