Keller’s Bell Elkins series sets a standard for its evocation of place and for the sensitive portrayals of its characters, with Bell the most masterfully drawn of all. This is introspective, literary crime fiction at its best.
The mystery is first-rate with a murderer I never saw coming. The characters are fully developed people who are going through their own private crises—very realistic—at the same time as the murder investigation. But my favorite part is the West Virginia setting and the battles of the inhabitants just to live. Generation after generation, the people who are born and live in Acker’s Gap struggle to survive. Keller covers everything from layoffs in the fifties to the current opioid epidemic and the effects on everyone in the town. Why do the people stay? ... Haunting.
... a heartbreaking blues song of a novel, employing beauty to evoke despair while reminding readers that even in the darkest of days, there might also be light ... begins with a 16-page prelude that serves as an allegory for the novel to come and is as fine a piece of writing as you will read this year.
... the book commences with a startling vignette that will launch any number of readers (including this one) out of their seats. Keller knows how to get the attention of her audience and keep it, and she displays this knowledge early on. The vignette in question hovers over the book like a shadow from beginning to end ... Surprises abound as revelations occur. Keep yourself strapped in as you read ... Keller reminds me of Helen Fuller Orton, a prolific children’s mystery author who wrote books that often took place in rustic settings. Orton could wring every bit of mystery out of a situation without the reader knowing it and make it look interesting, while populating her books with identifiable and sympathetic characters. Although this series is most definitely not for children, Keller’s ability to dig less than obvious plots out of dark landscapes is noteworthy. One has the feeling that she is just getting started with her tales of Bell Elkins and the streets of Acker’s Gap. I, for one, will be happy to read these novels as long as she continues to write them.
The novel moves quickly, but with the graceful character development and lyrical descriptions of rural and small-town West Virginia that readers have come to expect and appreciate from Keller ... Whether Elkins is tramping in the woods near what is left of the old Wellwood Hospital or hunkering down for coffee and pie at the diner with Fogelsong, the sense of time and place is beautifully and evocatively expressed.
... gloomy ... [Bell's] sleuthing opens her eyes to a very dark history of psychiatric care during the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, unrelated albeit poignant subplots, such as Jake starting a family with his girlfriend, slow the action. Still, this is a strong addition to the series that can easily be read as a standalone.