Mystery Debut of the Month, August 2012

starred review starKeller, Julia. A Killing in the Hills. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2012. c.376p. ISBN 9781250003485. $24.99. M

The shocking opening of Keller’s debut—the point-blank fatal shooting of three old men at a fast-food joint in rural West Virginia—will jerk unsuspecting readers out of their complacency. Carla, the adolescent daughter of the county’s lead prosecutor, Belfa “Bell” Elkins, witnesses the shooting, but with the logic of a teenager, she doesn’t tell anyone what she knows. Bell, an intensely driven loner, senses that this killing ties in with the wave of drug crimes threatening to overwhelm her county. She must also wrestle with another troubling case involving a developmentally disabled young man accused of murdering his friend. While Bell tears all over the county questioning people, Carla’s lies of omission come to haunt her. VERDICT Keller’s vividly described characters and shifting points of view make this debut novel especially realistic. Occasionally, a plot thread peters out (e.g., where did all the reporters go?), but the story is so engrossing that pages just fly by. Keller, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, neatly straddles the line between moralizing and storytelling with this superbly detailed and suspense-drenched mystery. Share with Linda Fairstein, Meg Gardiner, and Lisa Gardner fans.