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Friday, October 16, 2015

Appalachian Murder Mystery Series Goes Deeper, Gets Better As It Goes

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Summer of the Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

High summer in Acker's Gap, West Virginia, means more time for its mountain residents to enjoy the rugged beauty around them.  And yet, few seem to be outside, taking advantage of the long, arid days.  With a killer on the loose, the hill people are scared.  Too frightened to linger, too scared to stray far from their homes.  It's up to Belfa "Bell" Elkins, Raythune County's prosecutor, and her old friend, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, to stop the killing.  If only they had a clue where to look.  For all its breathtaking natural wonders, Acker's Gap is a hard, dead end kind of town, one where desperation leads to violence of every kind.  Who could be harboring homicidal tendencies?  Just about everyone.
Bell's got enough problems to deal with, never mind the recent murders.  Her 45-year-old sister, Shirley, has moved in with her after serving 30 years in prison for killing their abusive father.  Trying to re-form the close relationship they shared as girls isn't easy now that they're independent, headstrong adults.  Especially since Shirley refuses to listen to reason.  Bell's also missing her 17-year-old daughter, who lives with her flashy father in D.C.  The last thing she needs is more problems to solve.  Or, maybe it's the best thing to get her mind off her domestic troubles?

When Bell's investigation leads her to 19-year-old Lindy Crabtree, the prosecutor believes she's finally getting somewhere.  The jumpy teenager is hiding her sad, angry father in the locked basement.  The ex-miner, whose failing mind prefers the lonely darkness, could be the exact person for whom Bell and the sheriff have been searching.  If only the case were that simple ...

Julia Keller's exploration of Odell Crabtree's issues gives Summer of the Dead, the third installment in her Appalachian mystery series, a greater depth than what is found in the two previous books.  Keller always excels at bringing to life the struggles and stresses of her beloved hill people, but Odell's plight feels especially poignant.  As does Bell's constant worry over her older sister.  It's always been the characters and setting more than the plot that draws me to this series—still, there's plenty of action to be had in a Keller novel, no worries about that!  Although I pieced together some of the answers to the mysteries in Summer of the Dead, I didn't see all of them coming.  That suspense, as well as my interest in the daily dramas of Acker's Gap's salt-of-the-Earth residents, kept me turning pages.  Not to mention hankering for more from the indomitable Bell Elkins.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bell Elkins series [A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; and Last Ragged Breath])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, sexual innuendo, and adult subject matter (child abuse, drug abuse, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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