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

3.9 out of 5 stars 185 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.


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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 (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By PattyLouise VINE VOICE on July 27, 2012
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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book had potential but in my opinion there are too many flaws. My first issue with the book came early when Keller tells us who the killer is. Granted, we don't know who hired the killer other than he is in the drug business, but Keller doesn't really play on this or create suspense by giving us a lot of clues/suspects. I wasn't holding my breath wondering who this guy was. My other complaint is that the main characters were both fairly unlikeable. I'm not the type of person to have issue with characters with faults or even intentionally unlikeable characters but the daughter in this book just comes across as a self centered idiot mixed in with an older person's cliched ideas of how teenagers think and the mother in the book comes across as an annoying uptight Type A workaholic. The type without a sense of humor. I also thought the plot devices and characters responses to events and motivations were really weak. The daughter's reason for not revealing the killer just seemed so trite and unbelievable for someone who just witnessed a gory shooting and the mother (Bell) leaving her daughter home soon after to work when she doesn't have to seemed strange. I also didn't find the lack of any type of investigation or even questioning in regards to the mentally handicapped character believable nor some other details regarding that crime. I also didn't think any decent mother would be noticing how cute a stranger looks or having a cliched moment of chemistry with him when they accidentally touch when her daughter has just gone missing. Finally, the ultimate reveal of the person who ordered the killing and reasons behind it just didn't work.
Keller seems to impose her plot on her characters and bend them awkwardly to fit the story instead of letting them and the plot develop in a more natural organic manner that makes more sense. Judging from some relationship loose threads that she left she is planning to write more Bell Elkins novels. I won't be reading them.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I couldn't get interested in this book because I disliked the main character so much. I should also admit: 1) I only got through half the book; 2) I grew up in a dysfunctional family in Appalachia and generally hate books about dysfunctional families in Appalachia; and 3) I fled Appalachia to be a lawyer in a big city. Unlike Bell, I've never regretted that decision.

The lead character, Bell, is a smug, self-righteous woman with a strong sense of vengeance but no capacity for empathy or compassion. She also has no self-perception. She declares herself to be a wonderful mother although she works sixteen hours a day, seven days a week and broke her up family to move back to West Virginia because she was convinced only she could save rural Appalachia from its self-inflicted prescription drug scourge. When her teenage daughter witnesses a murder at the beginning of the book, Bell sends her home with a neighbor and goes back to work until late in the evening. The next day (a Sunday), she leaves the girl alone while she goes to work on another case. She's then incredibly annoyed when her ex-husband drives five hours to make sure his daughter is okay and she's baffled when the child decides she wants to live with her father. Oh, and Bell was also elected county prosecutor despite the fact that she had just graduated from law school and apparently had never had a job. Well, it is supposed to be fiction. One of the subplots in the book involves a character who has spent thirty years in prison for killing her sexually abusive father when she was sixteen. At least in the first half of the book, no one suggests that this sentence might be unjust.
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