Book 301: SUMMER OF THE DEAD Review

Summer of the Dead (Bell Elkins Series, Book 3) by Julia Keller
ISBN: 9781250044730 (hardcover)  
ISBN: 9781466843189 (ebook)
ASIN: B00IHCYWDY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Minotaur Books

West Virginia prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins’s sister has been out of jail for three months, and in that time Bell has given her a place to stay, bought her everything she needed, even put up with her constant smoking habit. Still, tensions are high and it’s not quite the homecoming reunion Bell had envisioned. When Bell gets a call in the middle of the night to pick Shirley up from a bar fight, she’s livid. But on arriving at the bar, Shirley is the least of Bell’s problems: inside, a man has been killed.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Lindy Odell’s father’s health is steadily declining, and her job at the gas station is boring at best, but Lindy’s been managing just fine, thank-you. Now, though, the recent rash of violent crimes in Acker’s Gap has Lindy worried, as someone seems to be paying her a little too much attention.

With Summer of the Dead, Pulitzer-prize winner Julia Keller returns to Acker’s Gap, West Virginia in a provocative exploration of a struggling mountain town and its hardscrabble inhabitants.

Its summer time in Ackers Gap, West Virginia and the heat is oppressive. If dealing with the summer heat wasn’t bad enough, Bell Elkins and the residents of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia are also dealing with the fear left behind from a senseless murder. It’s only been a few months since the return of Bell’s sister, Shirley, and the awful murder of a teenage girl, as well as the spree of murders by a terrorist seeking revenge against one of Bell’s friends only in town for a visit. Bell’s lover suffered severe injuries during an explosion in a local eatery and their relationship seems to have fizzled out. Bell’s daughter is due in for the summer and that is the only bright spot in her immediate future. Just when Bell thinks that things can’t get any worse she receives a phone call from another county sheriff’s office that her sister is at the scene of a bar brawl that turns into a murder scene. Then another murder victim is found in Acker’s Gap and Bell’s daughter opts not to return to Acker’s Gap for the summer but go to London, England for an internship. Could things get any worse?

Be careful what questions you ask, because yes things can always get worse. After the second murder, Bell begins to wonder what an elderly retired coal miner – the first murder victim, a man that takes care of his dying mother – the second murder victim, a young lady that works at a local gas station/convenience store, and a former West Virginia governor have in common. On the surface it doesn’t appear to be much other than the fact that they are all residents of Raythune County (or at least a former resident with respect to the governor). The more Bell tries to make sense of what’s going on, the more confused and angry she becomes. The one thing Bell doesn’t do is back down from a challenge and she’s determined to find the answers behind these murders, hopefully before another murder occurs.

Summer of the Dead is the third book in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller. As with the previous books in this series, Ms. Keller doesn’t shy away from touchy subjects such as people getting rich or richer on the backs of the poor, politicians selling out the state to the highest bidders, environmental rape and plunder to the detriment of the everyday working man or woman, and the ever-present problems of meth/prescription drug addiction and abuse in rural areas in the state. The character Bell Elkins doesn’t whitewash her disgust at these practices and is adamant in her desire to rid at least her part of West Virginia from as many of these problems as possible. (If you haven’t read A Killing in the Hills, the first book in this series, please do so as it deals with the prescription drug abuse problem and drug trade in West Virginia in a realistic manner.)  Yes, there is widespread poverty in West Virginia. Yes there are rural areas in the state where the unemployment level is two or three times the national average. Yes, there are families that never seem to escape the hardscrabble life of their fathers and grandfathers. But there are also people like Bell Elkins that get an education and either stay or come back to make a difference. Summer of the Dead is an amazing mystery that pulled me back into Bell Elkins world. I read this book in one afternoon and only put it down to make another cup of tea or three. Ms. Keller has the ability to spin a tale that is so believable it borders on nonfiction. If you’ve read A Killing in the Hills and Bitter River you have to grab Summer of the Dead to read more about Bell Elkins and Ackers Gap. If you haven’t read the previous books in this series all I can say is, “what are you waiting for?”                                                                                                                                      
Click here to hear Ms. Keller discuss the Bell Elkins mystery series on NPR.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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A Killing In The Hills by Julia Keller
ISBN: 9781250018069
Publication date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Minotaur Books

In A Killing in the Hills, a powerful, intricate debut from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, a mother and a daughter try to do right by a town and each other before it’s too late.

What’s happening in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia? Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, it happened so fast, and no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter.  Was it random? Was it connected to the spate of drug violence plaguing poor areas of the country just like Acker’s Gap? Or were Dean Streeter, Shorty McClurg, and Lee Rader targeted somehow?

One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.

After all, what better way to repair their fragile, damaged relationship? But could Carla also end up doing more harm than good—in fact, putting her own life in danger?

Acker’s Gap, West Virginia could literally be any small town within the United States. The problems found there are found elsewhere. And the growing problem faced in many small towns is a problem with drugs (meth as well as prescription drug abuse). Prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins is working hard to see that Acker’s Gap doesn’t become tainted by the ever-increasing drug problems. 

A native West Virginia, Bell has seen plenty of trouble in her life and was able to succeed despite the rough start. She had even left West Virginia after completing school and worked in Washington, D.C. Bell became restless with the fast-paced life in DC and yearned to return home to West Virginia and make a difference. She had hoped her husband would feel the same, but he never wanted to return to his West Virginia roots. Bell returns to West Virginia, as a divorcee and single, working mother. Her daughter, Carla, does not like the small-town feel of Acker’s Gap. She misses her friends from DC and the social life. After getting into trouble again, she is seriously thinking of asking her father if she can move in with him and return to DC. One single moment changes everything for both Carla and Bell . . . a shooting that ends in the murder of three older men, a shooting that is linked to the drug problem in Acker’s Gap, a shooting that Carla was misfortunate enough to witness.

Bell, due to her job, must investigate the murders but she is also concerned about the impact this event may have on Carla. Carla, somewhat traumatized by the murders, decides she wants to help her mom with this investigation. As both Carla and Bell seek to find answers to why this event happened, they put their lives in jeopardy. Will Bell be able to protect her daughter from possible retribution? Is it really possible these murders are tied to the illegal drug trade in Acker’s Gap?

Ms. Keller presents a story that is all too familiar; the effects of the illegal drug trade on small towns. Bell’s back story provides just as much intrigue as the investigation into the murders and drug trafficking problems. She struggles with overcoming her past, while doing everything possible to ignore most of it. Carla is a typical teenage girl and yearns for excitement, difficult to find in a small town (or so she thinks). A Killing In The Hills is a dramatic and suspenseful story that drew me in from the first page. I found the characters and the action realistic and plausible. This story doesn’t denigrate the small town life; it just shines a spotlight on the problems found there. I finished A Killing In The Hills in one sitting and look forward to more from Ms. Keller.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this ebook free for review purposes from NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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