A West Virginia prosecutor has an uneasy feeling about her latest case.
Belfa "Bell" Elkins feels betrayed by one of her closest friends: former sheriff Nick Fogelsong has recently resigned from his job and is now head of security for the Highway Haven chain of truck stops. Meanwhile, Raythune County is beset by poverty and drug use. Coal is dying, and the only new jobs on the horizon are low-paying positions at the Mountain Magic resort, whose construction has been held up by Royce Dillard’s refusal to sell the parcel the resort needs for easy access to the interstate. Royce is a recluse who lives in a tiny cabin with the dogs he’s adopted. A survivor of the infamous Buffalo Creek disaster, he deals with dogs better than people but is known throughout the community as a kind and gentle soul. A tiny pension from the mining company whose lax policies created the flood that killed his parents is all Royce has to live on, but despite constant hectoring and offers of big money from Mountain Magic employee Edward Hackel, he refuses to sell. When Hackel’s badly battered body is found in the creek near Royce’s home, Sheriff Pam Harrison arrests Royce for the murder. Then a bloody shovel is found in his shed, and Bell has no choice but to prosecute, even though she has doubts and sorely misses the chance to discuss the case with Fogelsong. Bell, not a dog person, even takes in one of Royce’s pooches as she struggles with the case, angling for a plea bargain from a defendant who steadfastly maintains his innocence. The large sums of money involved guarantee other suspects; Bell just has to find one with a better motive for murdering Hackel.
A beautifully crafted mystery in which Keller (Summer of the Dead, 2014, etc.) explores love, hate, and poverty in a place of stunning natural beauty with pockets of overwhelming ugliness. The ending may leave you in tears.