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A Killing in the Hills

(Bell Elkins #1)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  3,957 ratings  ·  652 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,
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Minotaur Books (first published 2012)
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,957 ratings  ·  652 reviews

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switterbug (Betsey)
May 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller is a 2012 Minotaur publication.

This first book in the Bell Keller series gets off to a commanding start with a mass shooting, which takes place inside a local eatery.

Bell, the prosecuting attorney, and single mother, discovers her only child, Carla, was inside the café when the shooting broke out, which prompts a shift in their already tumultuous relationship.

While the manhunt begins for the shooter, Bell must also work a case that involves a mentally ch
Richard Derus
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: debut, fiction
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
Oct 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Three stars because I liked the characters and the first two-thirds of the book very much. Not sure what happened after the story got established. When the plot resolutions were revealed, they were riddled with sloppy clichés, improbable police work mistakes, and a cheesy deathbed confession. Disappointing after such a good start.

I must be crazy, because I'd like to read another.
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Here is a fresh female author with an original and engaging voice who has been writing for years. However this award winning journalist has left her successful newspaper career to forge a new identity as an author and return to teaching to pass on her craft.
I really enjoyed this debut novel, it is beautifully written, well paced and captures you from page one. A crime thriller that has a good plot but isn't stuck in the genre, you care about the people and believe the actions and outcomes. Here
Aug 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Anderson
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
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,
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 A well crafted mystery, slow building suspense but a bit wordy. I did skim a bit. I will read the next offering in this series.
Colin Mitchell
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, crime
This one came to my list from a Goodreads suggestion and I found it in my local library service. Bell Elkins nee Dolan is the current elected Prosecuting Attorney in Raythune County in West Virginia. She is on a crusade to clear up the trade in supply of prescription drugs being sold to High School pupils, when her daughter is a witness to a walk in shooting where 3 older men are gunned down in a local Salty Dawge diner.

There are some great descriptions of the intimidating presence of the local
Daniel Sevitt
Jan 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: part-of-a-series
This was absolutely terrible. The author won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and has sat on the Pulitzer jury, so I have to believe that she knows what good writing is. This was utterly horrible. Every paragraph felt like a sentence written in draft format, then written again in the longest form possible and then written one more time for luck. I'm not sure if the editor was supposed to choose, but they seem to have all made the final version. I have never been so exhausted by dreary, drawn ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Predictable plot with a cliched cast of characters. I do not understand the praise for this book.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
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
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Killing in the Hills is the first book I have read by Julia Keller. She does a great job of describing the scenery and the culture of small-town life. Further, her ability to write about the feelings of a teenager are spot on. I enjoyed reading her comparisons throughout the entire book especially her comparing athletes to attorneys. Although the main character annoyed me at times by the way she neglects her daughter, I still enjoyed the book. The mystery and plot were well written. I look for ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 75-books-in-2017

I live in the Appalachians Mountains of Virginia, so this book really resonated with me in so many ways. Though this book takes place in West Virginia, it really didn't matter. Everything you see, hear, feel, everything that happens in this book with exception of the main story line is happening or has happened here in my part of the mountains. The drug epidemic, or the killing of innocents is so odd here because it never use to happen.

I felt very close to the town as it could have been mine.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
I got into this about 3-4 chapters and decided to move along. While reading reviews for another book, one reviewer said she wanted to like that book because she has not found a good book she could be happy about for quite awhile. And oh boy you just hope, "This will be the one." I feel this way about this dud. I love stacks of books in a library, but if all the books with no substance and deepness or an insult to my intelligence were gone, imagine how easy it would be to actually find a book wor ...more
Alice Teets
Oct 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, I really did. However, being a native West Virginian, I was slightly affronted by the description of our state. I know that parts of it resemble the poverty and despair that she describes, but by no means is this indicative of our entire state. I would recommend native West Virginians to read it, because they know the truth, but, if an "outsider" read it, I would hate to think that they consider it a completely accurate picture of West Virginia.
Cindy Crawford
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Josh Gould
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Good plot and characters, but the continuous stream of overly dramatic cliches drove me nuts. Felt like I was reading a parody of a soap opera.
Tabitha Sharp
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Too much extra descriptive text. The story got lost in it. Also wasn't prepared for the scene from her childhood at the end of the book. Way too much!
Carla had been waiting for her mother; her mom was late. Her cruel disposition analyzed the customers as she waited for her ride inside the Salty Dawg that Saturday morning. A table of three old-timers were really getting on her nerves, for their laughter and chatter was filling up the room and Carla saw no need for it. Then Carla saw them slump over, one-by-one. What just happened? Carla looked at the door, a dull gray color caught her eye. Tiny eyes were looking out at the victims, taking in t ...more
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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

Other books in the series

Bell Elkins (8 books)
  • Bitter River  (Bell Elkins #2)
  • Summer of the Dead (Bell Elkins, #3)
  • Last Ragged Breath (Bell Elkins, #4)
  • Sorrow Road (Bell Elkins, #5)
  • Fast Falls the Night (Bell Elkins, #6)
  • Bone on Bone (Bell Elkins #7)
  • The Cold Way Home
“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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