A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

A triple murder in broad daylight shakes a small West Virginia town to its core.

Acker’s Gap is an afterthought of a place.  Nothing of note really happens there, which is why the killings in a local fast food restaurant are such a shock.  A witness to the violence is Carla, the seventeen year old daughter of Raythune County’s prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins.  She and her mother are on barely speaking terms; after the crime event, Carla becomes even less communicative.

It wouldn’t seem that the murders were drug related.  The victims were three elderly men enjoying their morning coffee.  But drug use and drug-related deaths have been on the rise in the county – and Bell has an agenda of her own against the dealers that have penetrated even the remote areas of the state.  She grew up in Raythune County, got married and left, and then felt a need to return after seeing the crime rate in her hometown escalate.  

As Bell and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong slog their way through this slow-moving case, what they find becomes ever more startling.  Carla also has some tentative leads as to the identity of the culprit.  Despite her resentment to her mother, she wants to help, but Carla’s attempts put her too close to the killer, who is young, a loser, and a loose cannon.

I am not a huge murder mystery fiction fan, but the reviews for this book were positive, and after reading it, I’d have to say it’s one of the better mysteries I’ve read for some time.  Keller really gets to the pain of poverty, of split-up households, and of growing up in a nowhere place.  Her descriptions of the West Virginia mountains are vivid and the landscape becomes its own moody character – majestic at times, brooding and ominous at others.  A Killing in the Hills will keep you up late.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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