...Just outside the city limits was a handful of played-out coal mines and, beyond and above them, the corrugated foothills of the Appalachians, their sides dense with sweet birch trees and scarlet oaks, the ground crowded with mountain laurel and black huckleberry.
It was a beautiful place, especially in the late spring and throughout the long summer, when the hawks wrote slow, wordless stories across the pale blue parchment of the sky, when the tree-lined valleys exploded in a green so vivid and yet so predictable that it was like a hallelujah shout at a tent revival. You always knew it was coming, but it could still knock you clean off your feet.
A Killing In The Hills begins with a multiple shooting - three elderly men drinking coffee together at a local fast food joint. The shooter comes in and goes out and nobody sees much. Also, no one knows if this was directed at one of the men or all of them or if they were just random victims. The restaurant was full of people, including Carla Elkins, 17-year-old daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for the county.
Bell (or Belfa) and her ex-husband, Sam, were raised in Acker's Gap and left as fast as they could. They both became attorneys and Sam is now a lobbyist in Washington. He and Bell came to a parting of the ways when she wanted to return to West Virginia to help with the problems if she could. Sam told her that he couldn't go back. Bell and Carla have lived in Acker's Gap for five years and their relationship has been strained of late - teenage girl, mom with demanding job, both stubborn as all get out - you get the picture.
Along with local sheriff Nick Fogelsong, a man that Bell met when she was a young girl and her family was falling apart, Bell fights crime in a town that is struggling with deep poverty and the crimes that come along with it. She really wants to focus on the drug trade that is taking their young people, who have few choices in life, and turning them into wrecks before they even grow up.
I was totally gripped by the story presented in this first entry to a series that now has four books. The setting was described in such a way that I could almost see and feel it. I did figure out the reason for the shootings and also the shadowy figure behind it, but that didn't lessen my positive experience. I was impressed with how appealing Julia Keller made this area, while still being very candid about the issues and problems that are ongoing. I'll be glad to continue with the next book in the series, Bitter River, very soon. If you like a mystery with a passionate, no-nonsense main character, you'd probably like Bell Elkins. I look forward to watching her as she loves her home, hates it, and champions the people who need her.