Review: A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

August 29, 2012 Minotaur Books, Review, Thriller 4

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (August 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1250003482
  • Source: Publisher

In the small town of Acker’s Gap, Virgina, three elderly man are shot and killed as they drink their morning coffee in the town diner. Although most of the town was there to witness the act, no one saw the shooter. Or so they say, at least. One of the individuals in the diner at the time was Carla Elkins, daughter of Bell Elkins, the county’s prosecuting attorney. She and her mother don’t have the best of relationships. Carla is desperate to get out of the small town and doesn’t understand her mother’s reason for return after so many years of a seemingly happy life living in Washington D.C. The majority of her mother’s time and attention is now devoted to her job, making Carla feel neglected. This, and the usual conflict that arises between a mother and a teenage daughter causes a rift between Carla and her mother. Despite this, days after the shooting Carla believes she may know the identity of the shooter and embarks upon her own investigation.

The local authorities quickly launch their own investigation. Were the three men targeted or is the shooting somehow tied to the drug trade that has taken over the small town? Bell, already working on another murder case, has to divide her time between learning more about the motive for the shooting and the case of a young boy found dead in a neighbor’s basement, their mentally disabled son arrested for the crime. Adding to the stress already on Bell is the knowledge that someone is out to harm her. It starts with a reckless driver who attempts to force her vehicle off a treacherous mountain road and slowly hits closer to home, dealing Bell a blow that forces her to completely rethink her relationships with townspeople she thought were her friends.

A Killing in the Hills is truly an atmospheric thriller. Keller so expertly describes the setting: the lush mountains of West Virginia and the changing colors of fall. Growing up in West Virginia myself, I was instantly transported back to a part of the country that will always have a place in my heart. Her clear and accurate portrayal of the setting instantly takes the reader into a completely unique part of the country, an area that is devastated due to the decline of the economy and shortage of jobs. As Keller so eloquently explains, natives of the state already have one point against them as society at large seems to have preconceived notions about West Virginians. This commentary just adds to the overall atmosphere of the novel: a brutal, heartless killing that takes place one one of the most gorgeous parts of the country.

Additionally, the characters are so well fleshed out and developed that it is not difficult to bond and sympathize with them. They are truly genuine characters and readers will find it easy to recognize traits of their own friends and acquaintances in them. Without a doubt the character who stands out the most for me is Bell, a strong-willed, hard-headed woman who will stop at nothing, risk everything, to bring justice to this small town.  Her own history comes in to play, a truly dynamic character that has risen above the fate that was dealt to her.  The multiple story lines may sound complex and unwieldy, but Keller so expertly executes them that they flow together naturally, further accelerating the pacing of the novel.

I found myself immersed in the novel and the characters from the start, transported to a place I recognize from my own childhood. A truly remarkable debut to a new series, I can’t wait for more! Highly recommended!

4 Responses to “Review: A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller”

  1. harvee
    Twitter: BookDilettante

    A thriller set in the West Virginia mountains. Looks like one I’d want to read. Love the cover! Nice review.

  2. carol

    Definitely going on my list. I love the idea that it’s set in West Virginia, and I tend to enjoy small town mysteries.