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A Killing in the Hills (Bell Elkins #1)

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  2,173 ratings  ·  430 reviews
In A Killing in the Hills, a powerful, intricate debut from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it's too late.

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,
ebook, 384 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Minotaur Books (first published 2012)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Description: In this powerful, intricate debut from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it's too late.

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 i
switterbug (Betsey)
A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist writes a first novel about a murder of three elderly men in the West Virginia hill country. The possibilities intrigued me from the first few pages, and I expected a well-written piece of work--no fluff, no sloppiness, clean editing, and mature, solid plot and theme structure. A good journalist is experienced in the weight of a word, the sharpness of a sentence. Unfortunately, this debut novel turned out to be derivative and prosaic, with minimal tension and a ...more
My sincere thanks to Alison Fisher, Library Marketing Coordinator, Adult Trade of Macmillan for getting the e-galley to me at my request. A Killing in the Hills will be published August 21st.

The highest compliment I can give Julia Keller's debut novel is that I'd like to read another featuring prosecutor, Belfa Elkins; Bell for short. I'm not a fan of series fiction as a whole, but I say, bring on the next one!

The story starts out with a bang, literally. "Pock, Pock Pock." The gunman enters Th
Jen Klug
One star says that I just "did not like it." But believe me, that's putting it far too mildly.

I haaaaaaaaaaaated this book.

It should have been good - in spite of how terrible it was, I cared about the characters, which means this author is obviously capable of something. But still. I hated it. Hated it. I just finished it and I'm angry about having given it time. Look, Julia Keller:

1. The similes, girl. Too, too, too, too much, and not even good ones. The similes are thick, like a layer of dead
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I don't get the buzz on this book. It was a real disappointment. There are a number of aspects about it to criticize:

1. The book really needed an editor. It's incredibly repetitious; there are descriptions of people that are repeated and ideas that are re-stated numerous time.

2. Too often, Keller strives for the memorable sentence, but usually just falls flat and sounds self-consciously literary.

3. The characters are two-dimensional, not at all subtle.

4. This is supposed to be a suspense novel,
This was a solid start to the series. I liked the characters a lot and the locale was something different for me. I'm holding back a star here because I thought it was a little too long and had the tendency to be repetitive. But I enjoyed it for the most part, especially the side plot. I actually thought that was the stronger story-line. I plan on checking out the next book in the series soon. 3 solid stars.
Brian Anderson
I picked this up because of a librarian recommendation, and it was a good read. Interesting characters, good descriptions and a story that kept me turning the pages. This is apparently the first of a series and since I'm not a big fan of mysteries and this one wrapped up nicely for me at the end, I'll probably stop with this one. However, since it's better than most, I'd recommend it for fans of the genre.
Predictable plot with a cliched cast of characters. I do not understand the praise for this book.
Cindy Crawford
A Killing in the Hills is set deep in the mountains of West Virginia, and the place is as important to the story as any of the characters. Keller's lyrical descriptions of the setting makes the mountain and the surrounding woods and towns and roads and houses and shacks and abandoned mines come alive. At times when reading I had to consciously pull myself out of the setting--I felt like I too lived in this town and saw these places.

There's also a good mix of interesting characters and a solid my
Bell Elkins grew up in Acker's Gap, West Virginia. After a tragic upbringing that includes a fire and the death of her father, she then goes from foster home to foster home. She goes away to college, gets married and has a child. She feels drawn to return to Acker's Gap to make a difference. Her marriage falls apart and she takes her daughter home to West Virginia. She runs and is elected prosecuting attorney for Raythune County. The county has a serious drug problem and Bell is determined to cl ...more
Acker's Gap, West Virginia could literally be any small town within the United States. The problems found there are found elsewhere. And the growing problem faced in many small towns is a problem with drugs (meth as well as prescription drug abuse). Prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins is working hard to see that Acker's Gap doesn't become tainted by the ever-increasing drug problems.

A native West Virginian, Bell has seen plenty of trouble in her life and was able to succeed despite the rough start
A Killing in the Hills seemed like a good literary mystery novel, something I would enjoy. While I would still go with the assessment that it's more of a literary novel, I have to say I didn't enjoy it. It was very wordy and full long, windy descriptive phrases that distracted me from the story itself. Here's one: "Bell Elkins tore through the tape as if it were tinsel on last year's Christmas tree--as it were, that is, superfluous, out of place, and certainly nothing that ought, under the prese ...more
I really enjoyed this book, a great mystery and with the family issues, makes me think this might be the start of a great series.

This story is set in a small town (fictional Acker's Gap) in West Virginia, but frankly, this small town reminded me a lot of my hometown in SE Ohio.

The book starts out with people in a diner. All of a sudden, three older gentleman (sitting together at a table) are shot. The prosecutor's daughter witnesses the shooting and the story takes off from there ...

Besides the
Death in Appalachia. Acker’s Gap is a small West Virginia town. A rural area that is both beautiful and grotesque. Rampart drug use and incessant poverty are the reasons for the latter, issues that currently plague many areas across America.
One Saturday morning, three old man, longtime friends, are having coffee at a local diner. They are brutally gunned down by a lone assailant, who quickly flees. Bell Elkins, the county prosecutor, is called in to investigate. Her teenage daughter witnessed t
I loved this novel from Julia Keller. It was very clear from her descriptions that she had an excellent grasp of small town living. Living in a town of 400, I loved when authors paint a picture of small town life and she was definitely detailed in her descriptions of Ackers Gap. Second, the book unraveled like a slowly and methodically, leaving me as the reader begging for more, with a knock down twist at the end that I didn't see coming. Normally I can determine "the bad guy" at the end of the ...more
Set in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, this debut mystery by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller is both atmospheric and fast-paced. The story centers around Belfa Elkins, a prosecuting attorney, who is strong, independent and doggedly determined to rid her community of the drug dealers who are dragging it's people further into the depths of despair and poverty. Little does Belfa know that her anti-drug crusade will bring death to her town and danger to her family. The plot ...more
Jean Poulos
This story grabbed my attention at the beginning and held it to the last page. In a nutshell the story is about a mother and daughter relationship in a difficult situation. Bell Elkins is Raythune County’s Prosecuting Attorney. Carla her teenage daughter witnesses’ three men being shot down at a table near her in a local café. Carla sets out to solve the crime. Meanwhile a local drug boss orders the assassination of Bell. All this is happening while Bell has several tough trials going on.

The boo
Nancy McFarlane
I don’t often stop while reading a mystery to re-read a sentence or paragraph because it is so beautifully written and so descriptive that I want to remember it. But, I found myself doing that quite frequently while reading A Killing in the Hills. On top of being beautifully written, it is a tension filled suspense novel and murder mystery with characters so well developed I felt like I really knew them and the sense of place so vivid I felt like I had been there.
Joop Liefaard
In een restaurant in het stadje Acker's Gap worden op een zaterdagochtend drie bejaarden die van hun kopje koffie zitten te genieten door een onbekende doodgeschoten. Alleen Carla, de dwarse en opstandige dochter van Officier van Justitie Bell Elkins heeft de dader gezien en herkend maar ze durft dat haar niet te vertellen. Bell begint met sheriff Nick Fogelsong aan het onderzoek zonder deze essentiële informatie. Heeft de moord te maken met de steeds groeiende illegale handel in medicijnen en d ...more
I thought this book started out a bit slow although the descriptive language gives the reader a good sense of life in a depressed little town in West Virginia. The momentum builds as you get further into the story. I give it 4 stars.
I enjoyed this one. Julia Keller captures, I think, both why West Virginia's sons and daughters leave...and why they stay...the endless conflict between a desire to make things better and to make something of yourself. She also understands why drugs are ravaging our state, and why the fight against them is overwhelming most of the time. Her storytelling Can be a bit choppy; the number of subplots in the story is a bit much. But A Killing in the Hills is a well done mystery, and I definitely didn ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Winter of Secrets, by Vicky Delany, b-plus, Narrated by Carrington MacDuffie, Produced by Blackstone Audio, downloaded from

Sometimes the smallest towns have the darkest secrets.Siblings Wendy and Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and their friends are in British Columbia, enjoying a two-week
vacation. Tragedy strikes the group of privileged students when two of them crash through the ice into the frozen river.It's Christmas Eve and the snowstorm
of the decade has settled over the peaceful Canadian
The murder of three elderly gentlemen in a burger joint quickly grabs your interest. The door opens, in walks a gunman, he takes aim at the men and within seconds all are dead. With several customers at the time no one is able to give a description of the killer to the police. However, one teen not only saw him but knows who he is, she met him at a party once where illicit drugs were being used and doesn't want her mother to know. She doesn't know his name or where he lives though and sets out o ...more
I always enjoyed Julia's writing at the Chicago Tribune - her lyrical prose and way with a turn of phrase. So I was eager to read her foray into a mystery/suspense genre and hopeful to have a new heroine to follow. I wasn't disappointed with her first book. Keller brings her gifts of phrasing to this novel and uses them well to make you feel like you know Ackers Gap and understand the pull of home to her heroine, Bell. This first book has a lot of heavy lifting to do - establishing characters, b ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ami Sands
I know this sounds pretentious, but this book was my first ever mystery thriller. I'm not a literary snob (well, perhaps I am) because I can't read anything that is not well-written. I just don't enjoy it, don't wish to invest the time.

This novel is wonderful and Keller is a first-rate writer. I loved the powerful West Virginia setting, both the beauty and the hardship vividly drawn--Keller knows this place as one would know a person whom one loves and grieves for. The mother-daughter drama is c
Debbie Maskus
Keller writes a beautiful novel complete with dimensional characters and riveting scenes. I could fell the gentle strength of Belfa and the tenacious hold on Link Fogelsong. Why do people turn to crime is a question with many layers, and Keller addresses several of the reasons in her novel. The people of Acker's Gap are pitiful and wonderful in different degrees. A small community knows all the personal secrets, but individuals lack the gumption for involvement. The only concern rests with the e ...more
The writing style of this book is very good and I am interested in the characters. However, the mystery part of the book was slow and didn't really feel like a main part of the book. I will probably try the second in the series and then decide if I will keep going or not.
Barbara Kling
Its been a long time since I've read straight mystery. And I'm glad that I returned to it with this book! Obviously, Keller knows her setting and its people well and delivered a great story.
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Julia was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. She graduated from Marshall University, then later earned a doctoral degree in English Literature at Ohio State University.

She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at Princeton and Ohio State Universities, and the University of Notre Dame. She is a guest essayist on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and has been a contri
More about Julia Keller...

Other Books in the Series

Bell Elkins (5 books)
  • Bitter River  (Bell Elkins #2)
  • Summer of the Dead (Bell Elkins, #3)
  • Last Ragged Breath (Bell Elkins, #4)
  • Sorrow Road (Bell Elkins, #5)

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“Bell never did find an artful way to her endless line of callers that nothing-- not even a mother- in- law's decades-long obnoxiousness --justified murder.” 0 likes
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