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A Killing in the Hills (Bell Elkins Novels) Hardcover – August 21, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 178 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A Killing in the Hills superbly evokes the hard times and wooded beauty of a poverty-stricken county in West Virginia. . .A finely written and engrossing debut.” ―Houston Chronicle

A Killing In The Hills is a gripping, beautifully-crafted murder mystery that shows that small-town West Virginia is no longer Mayberry. Great reading.” ―SCOTT TUROW

“Julia Keller is that rare talent who combines gripping suspense, a fabulous sense of place and nuanced characters you can't wait to come back to. A must read.” ―KARIN SLAUGHTER

A Killing in the Hills is a remarkably written and remarkably tense debut. I loved it.” ―DENNIS LEHANE

“Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills is a terrific debut--atmospheric, suspenseful, assured. I hope there's more to come in the story of Bell Elkins and Acker's Gap.” ―LAURA LIPPMAN

“Be careful opening this book because once you do you won't be able to close it. Instead, clear the weekend, silence the phone and settle into Acker's Gap, a place as fascinating and fraught with violence and beauty as Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks or William Gay's Tennessee. A killer novel.” ―TOM FRANKLIN

“Outstanding. . .Keller does a superb job showing both the natural beauty of Appalachia and the hopeless anger of the people trapped there in poverty. . .Unforgettable.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review, Pick of the Week)

“A page-turner with substance and depth, this is as suspenseful and entertaining as it is accomplished.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“A fictional debut for a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, born and raised in West Virginia, whose love for the state, filled with natural beauty and deep poverty, pervades a mystery that has plenty of twists and turns and a shocking conclusion.” ―Kirkus (starred review)

About the Author

JULIA KELLER was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado. A Killing in the Hills is her first mystery.


Product Details

  • Series: Bell Elkins Novels (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250003482
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250003485
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A Killing In The Hills
Julia Keller

My "in a nutshell" summary...

An attorney in a small West Virginia town is targeted by a killer. In addition to that she has multiple issues...her daughter, her past, her sister. These issues are not pleasant ones.

My thoughts after reading this book...

Totally amazing fast paced thriller that was almost impossible to put down...the kind of book that literally grabs you and holds you until you are finished. From the first few pages where the old men were shot while sipping coffee at Salty Dawg's ( and this is not a spoiler, this information is in the book's summary ) to the last amazing pages...this book held me captive. West Virginia, drugs, poverty, and dysfunction tossed in with memorable characters made this book superb.

What I loved about this book...

I loved the characters in this book. They were varied and complex. They all had issues. Some were sad, some were miserable, some were ridiculously funny. Some were pathetic and some were just plain evil...really horribly evil.

What I didn't love...

I did not love the bad guy...he was the guy you love to hate!

Final thoughts...

This definitely is not a cozy cozy mystery but it is a fabulously chilling one. It's that lovely cross between a calm sit by the fire book and a thrill ride. I loved this book. This author is a new author for me but one that I will seek out again!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I SO wanted to be enraptured with this book- the first 2 chapters really had my attention and I thought I would be glued...but by chapter 5 I just wasn't as involved. I'm not really sure why, the author did an excellent job of providing backstory for the main characters, setting the turning point in the town gone bad scenario and making the town somewhere you wouldn't mind visiting. She got everything about the reality of small towns right, but there was so much that seemed not necessary (some editing was definitely needed to make it a tighter mystery), that I lost interest (which is really odd for me). I found myself skipping ahead and reading pages, then going back and reading here and there, and I found that the ending made sense to me, as I had it figured out about half way through.

I'm not sure a series would be enticing to me. As I liked the sheriff, but Bell had issues (daughter witness a mass murder and she leaves her home? I don't care if it's fiction, you stay more than 30 minutes with your kid)and while they may have been explained, I just can't see myself reading another book with her as the lead.

Other people may find this a totally engrossing book, and with some editing it might be.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Who would walk into a crowded fast food restaurant and shoot three men as they sat drinking coffee? And why? Why these particular three friends; why this kind of violence in a small, rundown West Virginia town? These are the questions that prosecutor Bell Elkins is faced with in the wake of a seemingly random triple homicide. As gruesome as this killing is, Bell can not give it her undivided attention. The trial of a twenty-eight year old, profoundly mentally impaired man is about to get underway. Albie Sheets killed a six year old boy; a boy he befriended and often played with. Should Bell charge him with murder, or was it just an accident - a game gone terribly wrong?

This is how we are introduced to Bell Elkins, thirty nine year old single mother and chief prosecutor for Acker's Gap, West Virginia. Bell is juggling her overwhelming professional responsibilities with the daunting task of parenting a moody, angry seventeen year old girl. As the mystery unfolds, Bell's personal and professional lives intersect, driving the tense storyline to a heart-pounding conclusion.

I thought this was a first rate mystery. I am not an "armchair sleuth", it's not putting together the pieces of the puzzle that draw me to a mystery, but rather the characters. I find that authors who write this genre generally know how to create intriguing, multi-dimensional characters. Julia Keller excelled in this area. These characters were richly drawn; realistic and relatable. She is a very visual writer - I could clearly picture each scene. The dialog had a natural, non-scripted feel to it. As a parent of a teen myself, I must say that she "got" the relationship between Bell and her daughter.

As for the mystery itself...
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Format: Paperback
This is a novel about a young girl, grown to be an educated woman and mother who returns to her hometown. She returns, not with a sense of revenge or payback but to do good. She seeks and gets the post of County Prosecutor, forms a close alliance with the County Sheriff and tries to clean up her home town that has become ravaged by drugs. To accomplish this Bell Evans gives up a well paid job with a top law firm and leaves her husband who has refused to follow her example and return to their old home town. The reader perhaps, feels that the old home town does not deserve such sacrifice: thirty years ago they allowed Bell and her family to lead a wretched existence and when Bell's father died, Bell was placed in a number of unsuitable foster homes and her sister was incarcerated for murder.

However, despite all this the past does not really pervade the book except, perhaps, that her sister is still in prison. The novel focuses more on Bell's relationship with her teenage daughter, Carla, and her fight with the drug barons of Acker's Gap. The novel builds to a crescendo as Bell realizes that even the Colossus can have feet of clay.

Julia Keller draws her characters well, particularly her main character, Belfa and her stroppy daughter, Carla. The reader gets a good view of Acker's Gap, West Virginia which seems a real enough small mountain town struggling with both poverty and crime. However, unfortunately the plot is rather pedestrian and too slow moving for my taste, and the twist at the end was just a little too predictable I felt. I am sure that this novel will be the first of a whole series of Bell Elkins novels but I am not sure that they will be on my personal reading list.
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