A Killing in the Hills: crime by the numbers

Julia Keller's first crime novel doesn't live up to expectations.
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller.
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller.

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.

Published: August 18, 2012 04:00 AM