In A Killing in the Hills, a powerful, intricate debut from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it's too late.
What's happening in Acker's Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter. Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker's Gap? Or were Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader targeted somehow?
One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.
After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good—in fact, putting her own life in danger.
I got a copy of this book at BEA and although I didn't really know much about it, I really liked the cover (the colors are gorgeous) and I'm always down for a murder mystery. Or, as a woman I passed at BEA who had also grabbed a copy put it, "What's this? Murder? I like murders. Yoink."
If there's one thing I'm going to give Keller the most points for, it's how beautiful West Virginia sounds. You can tell she's from there because the setting descriptions are written with such love and respect that you can feel the love seeping from the page and making you, just a little bit, want to plan a trip to see those mountains. I've never been to West Virginia personally but it definitely made me nostalgic for childhood summer trips to Durango, Colorado to visit grandparents. That beautiful ruggedness, mountains and nature sounds and a lack of urbanity resonated through the entire work.
The plot itself wasn't terribly original but it was well written. The idea that prescription drugs were the big baddy was somewhat novel to me and I enjoyed that. If I wasn't shocked by each twist and turn, I at least wanted to see what was happening, eagerly page turning.
The characters, as well, are well drawn. Despite what the back of the book leads us to believe, the main character is Carla's mother Bell, the prosecuting attorney that has come back to West Virginia to try and do right by her hometown, even if she has a dark past and had left her high-powered husband to do so. I liked Bell and was intrigued by her past. I also enjoyed the local sheriff, Nick, who was another lovely character who wasn't a love interest or a best friend but more of a focal point for Bell to come back to when she was going out of control. I thought their relationship was original and new.
I liked that there were actually two stories going on in the narrative, as well. Normally a murder mystery is quite focused but in this case, the murder happens while Bell is already working a case with a child's death and she has to continue investigating while also looking into the murders. It felt true to life and I enjoyed the diversity.
I really enjoyed this book and I'm happy to see that another book in the same universe, Bitter River, is coming out in September. I will definitely seek it out.