A KILLING IN THE HILLS
By Julia Keller
A woman returns to the place where a family tragedy took place years ago. Everyone else is gone. She decides there is nothing here for her, either.
That woman is the prosecuting attorney of Raythune County, West Virginia. Bell Elkins has brought her teenage daughter, Carla, back to her hometown when her husband wanted a high-flying career that didn't seem to include them. But home hasn't been a sanctuary. Carla is in full teenage-rebel mode. She also could have been hurt the day a gunman walked into a local restaurant and killed three old men in the middle of their morning coffee meeting.
Bell and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, who was a young deputy when the tragedy in Bell's family took place and who took her under his wing, seek to find the killer. They also deal with other cases, the people they work with and the rest of the town where everybody seemingly knows everybody else. As is normal in a small town, not everyone is as they seem.
One of the cases appears to be an easy prosecution but shows Bell's determination for precision and doing right. A developmentally disabled young man plays with a much younger boy. One day, the younger boy dies. On its own, this case could have taken center stage in showing Bell's character, the ins and outs of small-town prosecutions and a decent plot.
The main story is told from the investigation side as well as the first-person account of the shooter, who is fairly standard-issue small-town nobody who wants to be known for something. The interesting part of the case has to do with Carla as she struggles with growing up and wanting to make her mother proud of her even if she wants Mom to just leave her alone.
Keller's first novel is an interesting attempt to showcase the struggles of people who live in beautiful country and high poverty, where drugs can offer an easy way out and a way to make some money. It isn't the strongest novel, as a few Too Stupid to Live moments are employed to raise the stakes in finding the killer. A contractor wanting to stop by a house after 10 p.m. also can easily take a reader out of the story. But the novel is an honest attempt and shows the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's considerable admiration for West Virginia and her people.
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