REVIEW: Fighting a losing battle in A Killing in the Hills
A KILLING IN THE HILLS. By Julia Keller. Minotaur. 416 pages. $24.99.
It’s possible to love a place without reserve, to hold an area so dear that there is no doubt that it is home. And yet, it also is possible to be clear-eyed about that home, to know its limitations, its dark corners and its potential.
Bell Elkins knows all too well the problems, poverty and drug use that plague Acker’s Gap, W. Va., where she suffered a traumatic childhood. Yet she has come back to this “shabby afterthought of a town” and is now the prosecuting attorney so she can fight to end the rampant prescription drug trade. But it’s a losing battle that’s waged daily in “A Killing in the Hills.”
The tension increases when three elderly men are gunned down at a local restaurant. It happens so fast that none of the many witnesses, including Bell’s teenage daughter, Carla, know what has happened.
After the initial shock wears off, Carla realizes she might recognize the killer, who probably was at a recent party. But Carla isn’t anxious to tell her mother as she would have to admit she was at a party with drugs. Carla and Bell are having more than the usual mother-daughter friction.
Bell knows that “one nudge in the wrong direction and Carla could fall off the edge.
A Pulitzer-winning journalist, Keller perfectly captures the ennui of a community paralyzed by poverty and des-pair and the pride of people who refuse to succumb to the insidiousness of drugs.
Keller enhances her debut with a perceptive character study of an obsessive woman whose mission may have blinded her to the intricacies of what drives people and to her own daughter’s needs.
Carla’s yo-yo emotions are well explored, as is Bell’s fractured childhood. “A Killing in the Hills” is a powerful debut.
Reviewer Oline H. Cogdill, a writer for the (South Florida) Sun Sentinel