Review

A Killing in the Hills

by Julia Keller

“Bell…wouldn’t back down. She had a clear-eyed and wild-hearted hatred for the illegal supplier of prescription medications, and for the drugs that, she believed, were poisoning the people in these mountains like arsenic dumped in a well.”

Belfa Elkins, the prosecuting attorney in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, is on what many consider a near-impossible crusade to stamp out drugs, at least in Raythune County. While most agree that something should be done, her dogged pursuit of dealers and abusers frightens many of the residents. Maybe she should ease up; it might be safer.

But when three old men, sitting in a packed café, are killed one morning by a single, bold shooter, it seems improbable that they were the targets of drug runners. What could they have in common with street thugs that got them murdered? Just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or something more sinister?

"A compelling novel, A KILLING IN THE HILLS engages the reader from its first chapter.... This book appeals to all five senses beautifully as it incites a sense of outrage without moralizing. And all of the town’s crises build up to a stunning crescendo that will leave you wondering."

Bell is handling another murder case, too, one involving a mentally challenged young man named Albie Sheets. His victim was just a boy, a boy who was his good friend. The family lives in poverty, like many in Acker’s Gap, but they’re doing the best they can. The case, though, weighs heavily on Bell. Will justice be better served by putting the killer in prison? How can that help society at all? She needs to understand whether or not Albie knew what he was doing was wrong. And now she has three more victims for whom to find justice.

To add to Bell’s already overfull plate, her daughter Carla has reached the age where her usual interaction with her mom consists of angry responses, eye rolling and shrugs. Seventeen-year-olds think they know everything, and are cursed by being too young to prove it, so naturally they tend to scoff at any sort of parental direction. What could her mom know about teenagers anyway? It’s been so long since she was one. Times have changed, after all.

The hunt for the killer seems like almost as impossible a task as ridding the world of illegal drugs. While there were many witnesses to the shooting --- including Carla --- there are as many descriptions of the man. No two of the people in the restaurant agree on what he looked like. Until one of them starts forming a vague recollection of seeing him before.

Acker’s Gap is Smalltown America, each of its citizens living through his own life trauma. Bell is no exception. In fact, she may have a past that can hurt her more than almost anyone else in town. She once had a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and a good job --- away from Acker’s Gap. She was the envy of everyone who tried to get out and didn’t make it. But she was drawn to return. There’s unfinished business awaiting her. What she doesn’t realize is that everything comes at a cost.

A compelling novel, A KILLING IN THE HILLS engages the reader from its first chapter. Its main character takes shape quickly, and one instantly wants her to win. Her strength may have grown out of her strife, but she still has weaknesses. Best yet, she has a fierce passion for ensuring that good overcomes evil, which may also be her undoing. This book appeals to all five senses beautifully as it incites a sense of outrage without moralizing. And all of the town’s crises build up to a stunning crescendo that will leave you wondering.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on August 24, 2012

A Killing in the Hills
by Julia Keller

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250028752
  • ISBN-13: 9781250028754