Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller

It’s the thick of summer in Acker’s Gap, and county prosecutor Bell Elkins has her hands full.  She has summertaken in her older sister who was recently released from prison, and Shirley proves to be a handful.

Summer of the Dead begins with Bell getting a call about her sister causing a ruckus at a bar.  When Bell arrives there to claim Shirley, there’s another altercation and a man is found stabbed with a screwdriver, with a puzzling business card on him.

This isn’t the first homicide of the season.  Bell’s department has also been investigating the murder of an older man, bludgeoned to death in his driveway.

Bell and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong doggedly pursue what slim leads there are, but it proves hard to focus in on the case with a community on edge and a major heat wave.  People are afraid to go out after night.  At least, most people are.

Added to Bell and Nick’s concerns is the visit of a former governor for a dedication at the local hospital.  Riley Jessup is from the area, a local who made good and left.  His appearance sparks adulation and some resentment among the crowd who come see him at the dedication.  Needless to say, his presence is another stress point.

Summer of the Dead is a story of a small West Virginia town besieged – by killings, by poverty and hopelessness, shady dealings, and rampant drug abuse.  In some ways, it’s very depressing to read about the subject matter.  Ironically, that’s also part of the book’s appeal.  The author doesn’t flinch from the grittiness of life, and the resilience of her characters drives the novel to an ending that, if not completely pat, at least indicates some hope.

This one’s the third in Julia Keller’s Bell Elkins Series, and one can hope there will be more.  The books can be read as stand-alones, but I think it helps to hit them sequentially, because there is some occasional back story moments.  The first two in order are A Killing in the Hills and Bitter River.

Prepare to turn some pages.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

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