Pulitzer Prize-winning author Julia Keller welcomes readers back to West Virginia, where Bell Elkin stumbles upon a body stuffed in the ruins of Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital that burned to the ground decades earlier. After learning that the victim, Darla Gilley, died of blunt force trauma to the head, Bell works with her business partners, former sheriff Nick Fogelsong and former deputy Jake Oakes, to unravel the murder.
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.