Book Review Murder-Mystery

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

Book Summary

What’s happening in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter. Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker’s Gap? Or have Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader been targeted somehow?

One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.

After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good―in fact, putting her own life in danger?

What I Thought

This book is beset by the over reliance on lengthy descriptions and, as a result, has choppy pacing issues. There is so much overwhelming description that any plot-points are either lost, or take so long to develop, you begin to lose interest in who did what to whom, and why. The whole story is one of minute detail and everyday minutiae. Characters relationships and general backgrounds are expounded on unnecessarily to the point of distraction. And while I know this is the first installment in what is, I think, a lengthy series, it’s frustrating that a large portion of Bell Elkins’ back story is taken up by a mysterious event that, in and of its self, is both brutal and disturbing. Especially as it does little to establish her behaviour in the present, or have any affect on the unfolding events. 

This novel, is supposed to be a story about the horrors of the opioid crisis set in small-town America, but is written more like a police procedural. The various main characters all have alternating scenes offering up different POV, and while normally I love this way of telling a story, some of those character view points do nothing to advance the story. Nor do they offer up any real enlightenment or insight. I would also add that the character of Chill—as a tough-kid cliché—seems more about adding brazen shock value than anything else. 

Overall, I found this one a struggle to read and finish, neither enjoying the prose nor connecting with any of the characters. Although, if this story had been focused solely on the prosecutor, Bell Elkins, it might have resonated more on a number of levels. For me that’s where the real story lay, a tragedy that was skimmed over, and told haltingly in bits—I wanted to know more about what happened to her and her older sister as children, at the hands of their father. Just what made Bell Elkins who she is, and what makes her tick. 

Questions that might be answered in further instalments of this series, but, sadly, I won’t be hanging around to find out.

A Killing in the Hills
(Bell Elkins #1)
Julia Keller
Minotaur Books, 2013
Paperback, 384 pages

6 comments on “A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

  1. Avatar

    Ha dang Alexandra! After having read the synopsis I was ready to love it. But lenghty descriptions kill a book for me too!

    • Alex

      That’s how I felt, Sophie, when I first got the book I was excited as it sound like a good start to a new series. But then it wandered, and had one too many long-winded sections that seem to be more filler than actual story. So that, in the end, it was a little frustrating. Because it could have been better.

  2. Avatar

    Nothing drives me crazier than dense murder mystery. Pacing is everything and when it’s off, I find it difficult to keep going or resist distractions. Sorry this was such a slog.

    • Alex

      Yeah, it was frustrating as this one started out so good and then, became tedious with all the extra long exposition. But then, this was the first in a long series, so maybe I’ll pick up a later book and try again.

  3. Avatar

    Well it is the first novel so it could be better going on onwards unless of course this is really this author’s signature style… It’s hard to know for sure. I have written someone off when I read her novel, it was boring and repetitive, and by chance I read 4, 5 years later her latest novel and I loved it. It is possible ;-). Sorry this one wasn’t what you wanted it to be, but it was the inspiration for a great review !

    • Alex

      Oh, I know what you mean, it could be it’s simply because it was the debut to a series. So yeah, I just might pick up another in the series and see if it’s gotten any better, then again, so many books, so little time, right? 😀

      And thanks, at least I did actually finish this one and review it. So that’s something.

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