A macabre 24 hours discloses a world of pain for Raythune County, West Virginia.
Acker’s Gap, the county seat, embodies all that’s gone wrong in Appalachia. The loss of dangerous but well-paying coal mining jobs has sunk many of the residents into an apathy so deep it can be relieved only for short periods by the cheap heroin flooding the area. Just after midnight, sheriff’s deputy Jake Oakes, arriving at the local gas station, finds a young woman near death from an overdose. Bell Elkins, the county’s tough chief prosecutor, is a local who came home eight years ago to make a difference (Sorrow Road, 2016, etc.). But now she’s seriously considering a proposal from a law school friend to become a partner in a new firm in D.C. Bell refuses to let her love affair go anywhere, and the hopeless poverty and drug abuse surrounding her is getting her down. The night brings more and more reports of overdoses. Most victims are treated with Narcan and recover, but several die, including the first woman, who came from a loving family, and a wealthy lawyer. Once they learn that the heroin has been cut with a fatal dose of elephant tranquilizer, the sheriff’s department and EMT squads race with death as they treat more overdoses and scramble to find the local distributor. In the morning, Bell's sister, Shirley, who served a jail sentence for killing their abusive father, tries to meet with her following a discussion with pastor Paul Wolford to discuss two life-changing secrets she’s been harboring. The passing hours gradually reveal the pain, suffering, indifference, and duplicity of people who will do dangerous and illegal things to stay afloat. Although Bell’s not religious, a hymn a friend recites to her brings her a moment of peace that looks depressingly short-lived.
Keller's prose is so pure that her exploration of the desperate scourge of drugs and poverty and her forecast of a grim future for her heroine are a joy to read.