The old men sat around the little plastic table in the crowded restaurant, a trio of geezers in shiny black jackets, mumbling, chuckling, shaking their heads and then blowing across the tops of their brown cardboard cups of coffee, pushing out their flabby pink old-man lips to do so. Then sipping. Then blowing again.Jesus,
Carla thought. What a bunch of losers.
Watching them made her feel, in every restless inch of her seventeen-year-old body, so infinitely superior to these withered fools and their pathetic little rituals that she was pretty sure it showed; she was fairly certain her contempt was half visible, rising from her skin in a skittish little shimmer. The late-morning sunshine flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls made everything look sharper, rawer, the edges more intense. You couldn’t hide a thing in here.
She would remember this moment for the rest of her life. Because it was the marker. The line.
Because at this point, she would realize later, these three old men had less than a minute to live.
One of them must’ve told a joke, because now his two buddies laughed—it sounded, Carla thought, like agitated horses, it was a kind of high-pitched, snorting, snickery thing—and they all shuffled their feet appreciatively under the table. They were flaky-bald, too, and probably incontinent and impotent and incoherent and all the rest of it.So what’s left?
That’s what Carla was wondering. After you hit forty, fifty, sixty, what’s the freakin’
point anymore, anyway?
Slumped forward, skinny elbows propped on the top of her very own little plastic table, Carla used the heel of her right hand to push a crooked slab of straight dark hair up and off her forehead. Her other hand cradled her chin.
Her nose ring itched. Actually, everything itched. Including her thoughts.
This place was called the Salty Dawg. It was a regional chain that sold burgers and fries, shakes and malts, and biscuits topped with slabs of ham or chicken and a choice of gravy: red-eye or sausage. But it didn’t sell hot dogs, which at least would’ve justified the stupid name, a charmless bit of illogic that drove Carla crazy whenever she came in here and slid into one of the crappy plastic chairs bolted to the greasy floor. If she didn’t have to, she’d never be wasting her time in this joint, and she always wondered why anybody ever came in here willingly.
Then she remembered. If you were an old fart, they gave you your coffee at a discount.
So there you go. There’s your reason to live. You get a dime off your damned coffee. Freaks.
Carla was vaguely ashamed of the flicks of menace that roved randomly across her mind, like a street gang with its switchblades open. She knew she was being a heartless bitch—but hell, they were just thoughts, okay? It’s not like she’d ever say anything rude out loud.
She was bored, though, and speculating about the old farts was recreational.
To get a better look, without being totally obvious about it, she let her head loll casually to one side, like a flower suddenly too heavy for its stalk, and narrowed and shifted her eyes, while keeping her chin centered in her palm.
Now the old men were laughing again. They opened their mouths too wide, and she could see that some o
“A Killing In The Hills is a gripping, beautifully-crafted murder mystery that shows that small-town West Virginia is no longer Mayberry. Great reading.”—SCOTT TUROW
“Julia Keller is that rare talent who combines gripping suspense, a fabulous sense of place and nuanced characters you can't wait to come back to. A must read.”—KARIN SLAUGHTER
“A Killing in the Hills is a remarkably written and remarkably tense debut. I loved it.”—DENNIS LEHANE
"Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills is a terrific debut—atmospheric, suspenseful, assured. I hope there's more to come in the story of Bell Elkins and Acker's Gap."—LAURA LIPPMAN
"Be careful opening this book because once you do you won't be able to close it. Instead, clear the weekend, silence the phone and settle into Acker's Gap, a place as fascinating and fraught with violence and beauty as Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks or William Gay's Tennessee. A killer novel."—TOM FRANKLIN
“A twisty plot—and a soulful depiction of a beautiful, besieged “afterthought of a town”—propels this debut mystery.”—People Magazine
“Keller perfectly captures the ennui of a community paralyzed by poverty and despair, and the pride of people who refuse to succumb to the insidiousness of drugs. . .A powerful debut.”—Oline Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Outstanding. . .Keller does a superb job showing both the natural beauty of Appalachia and the hopeless anger of the people trapped there in poverty. . .Unforgettable.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review, Pick of the Week)
“A fictional debut for a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, born and raised in West Virginia, whose love for the state, filled with natural beauty and deep poverty, pervades a mystery that has plenty of twists and turns and a shocking conclusion.”—Kirkus (starred review)