As the Chicago Tribune's sole recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, expectations for Julia Keller's new novel, her first work of crime fiction, are high.
For a culture critic supposedly well-versed in the tropes of literary genres, Keller does surprisingly little to deviate from the usual clichés associated with her chosen plot. The protagonist in A Killing in the Hills, Bell Elkins, is a quintessentially steel-boned state prosecutor, jaded from years spent filing dead-end cases and taking care of an increasingly sullen teenage daughter.
The book's title is as subtle as a sledgehammer, with Bell drawn to two murder cases in her rural hometown of Acker's Gap: one being the public shooting of three elderly men and the other involving a little boy strangled by his mentally challenged playmate.
Like Bell, Keller has a knack for going through the motions with her craft. Those looking to sate their appetites for originality will be left unsatisfied. Although its anticlimactic cliffhanger leads to a neat ending, the novel might prove too clean for veteran mystery fans to stomach.