We can love a place without reserve, hold an area so dear that there is no doubt that it is home. And yet, we can also be absolutely clear-eyed about that home, to know its limitations.
In Julia Keller’s powerful A Killing in the Hills, Bell Elkins knows the problems, poverty and extreme 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 for Raythune County so she can fight to end the rampant prescription drug trade. But she’s fighting a losing battle.
When three elderly men are gunned down during their regular get-together a local restaurant, 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 eager to tell her mother.
In her debut novel, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Keller perfectly captures the ennui of a community paralyzed by poverty and despair 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. Keller’s characters are not immune to the charms of West Virginia’s beauty, nor to the realities that are destroying it.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for the Sun Sentinel.