A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller is a debut legal thriller featuring a mother and daughter who attempt to find a shooter in a small town in West Virginia while mending their fragile relationship (available August 21, 2012).
When I look back on my reading of this book, my perspective changed completely after the tragic events that unfolded in Aurora, Colorado, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being reminded that wherever you are, whatever everyday, mundane place you happen to be, you are never truly safe and that you cannot protect anyone from violence, made me interpret the events in the book very differently.
The book begins with teenage Carla, waiting at a fast food joint for her mom to pick her up. She’s mean-girl bitchy and thinking snarky thoughts about the other customers. The door opens and gunfire strafes the room. Carla looks at the door and gets a clear view of the gunman before he turns and takes off.
A few weeks ago, I thought this was just a great set up for a mystery. Was it a random act? Part of a larger plot? I’d better keep reading! Now, I feel differently. The scene is a lot scarier and seems more real.
My perspective of the killer, too, changed from thinking of him as a stock “hired gun” type to seeing him in a deeper light. Julia Keller writes several scenes from his point of view, which shows his complete lack of affect.
But right now, Chill was flying high. He felt like he did after sex: nerved up, wound tight, to a high gloss. Some men got sleepy. Not Chill. He got antsy.
He’s just killed three people. And gotten away clean. He’s walked calmly into a Salty Dog and he’s shot three old men in the head—quick and neat, no fuss, no muss—and then he’s walked out again and gotten back in his car and he’s driven away. And nobody touched him. Nobody ever would.
It was, he decided, better than sex. Because it was all him, all Chill Sowards. He didn’t need anybody else to help him get this feeling.
The story is also about how drugs are destroying small, rural towns across America. And how the profits that can be made from exploiting even the poorest people can corrupt the most unlikely citizens and corrode entire communities across all economic levels. Even the folks fighting against the tide of drugs can get so involved that they lose themselves. Carla’s mother, Bell, is the prosecuting attorney and their relationship, strained enough by Carla just being a teenager, is also stressed by Bell being so busy and distracted. Even at the crime scene, Bell’s legal mind is always at work.
She didn’t mean to be abrupt, she hated to shush her child, but Bell knew how imperative it was to do things right. To follow protocol.
She was a mother, but she was also a prosecuting attorney, and on the stem of her softly winding maternal thoughts, another notion was growing like a wild spike—darker, harsher, meaner. The thorn on the rose bush.
They’d get the bastard who did this. There’d be no mistakes in compiling the prosecution’s case. No technicalities that might cause an acquittal. No slip-ups that might put his sorry ass back out on the street.
I can recommend this book solely on its merits as a thriller and as an introduction to Bell Elkins, who I am sure is going to reappear as the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. But, it takes on a richer and sadder tone in light of current events. Although this wasn’t the author’s intent, I don’t think, it certainly changes how the reader could be affected by scenes in the novel and how the characters react and change due to this killing in the hills.
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Amy Dalton is a buyer for a large, Midwestern library system. She has written news and reviews for several book and film sites over the years.
Read all of Amy Dalton’s posts for Criminal Element.