Eastland Mall Provides Inspiration for Central Ohio Author Natalie Richards’ New Thriller

The Pickerington resident and bestselling writer took a cue from the Columbus venue’s decline, setting her new murder mystery in a movie multiplex at a defunct mall.

Joy Frank-Collins
Pickerington author Natalie Richards at Eastland Mall, which inspired her latest thriller

Sometimes, life imitates art. Other times, life inspires it. When it comes to New York Times bestselling author and Pickerington resident Natalie Richards’ latest book, both notions apply.

“Four Found Dead” is a page-turning thriller about seven teens who are working the final closing shift at Riverview Theaters, a shuttering movie multiplex and the only remaining business operating inside the defunct Riverview Fashionplace Mall. After a confrontation and a power outage, the crew’s worst fears are realized when they discover that one of their own has been murdered. If the setting seems eerily familiar to Central Ohio residents, that’s by design.

“I pass Eastland Mall every day that I drive 70 East, and I’ve seen it deteriorate and sort of sag into nothing,” says Richards, whose new book will be released May 2. GroWing up in Whitehall, she spent a lot of time at the mall in its heyday. “It’s a really strange feeling to see something that was kind of a hub of activity when I was very young become this carcass eroding into this sea of pavement,” says Richards, who began work on the novel before Eastland’s owners announced its shuttering in December 2022.

Bestselling author Natalie Richards’ new book, “Four Found Dead”

Setting a book in that environment has “been in the back of my mind” for years, she says. “Just waiting for the right characters to show up. And about 18 months ago, they did.”

A mother to three teens, she is drawn to the young adult genre, for which she has written nine books, because of the audience. “It is so powerful writing teens because they’re experiencing everything very freshly. They’re learning who they are for the first time, and they aren’t jaded like [adults] are, and I love that,” she says. However, she never thinks that she’s writing a book for teens. “I’m writing a book for someone who is ready to be taken away from their world and on a thrill ride,” she says, noting that at this point her readership skews more adult than teen for some titles.

Even though she’s made The New York Times bestseller list with two book thus far, Richards isn’t one to rest on her laurels. She’s ventured into the middle grade genre for the book “15 Secrets to Survival,” which will be published by Penguin Random House this fall, and she has a “whopper idea” for a mystery novel geared toward adults. Don’t expect that one to hit stores anytime soon, though. “Two genres [are] all I can manage at once,” she says, laughing.

Author Event

Natalie Richards is celebrating the release of “Four Found Dead” from 6–7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Upper Arlington.

This story is from the May 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.