A deadly accident in 1938 West Virginia is the impetus for several modern murders.
Bell Elkins ditched her ambitious husband and high-stress job to become the prosecutor in Raythune County, where she grew up in unhappy circumstances. Her high-powered law school classmate Darlene Strayer also grew up in Appalachia but then stayed away, returning only to visit her father and finally place him in the Alzheimer’s unit of Thornapple Terrace in neighboring Muth County. Although Harmon Strayer was almost 90, Darlene has doubts that he and two other patients died naturally, and she asks Bell to look into their deaths. Bell asks her assistant, Rhonda Lovejoy, who has friends and relatives everywhere, to do some gentle probing. Bell’s own life is in disarray. She’s considering how to handle her love affair with a much younger man when her daughter Carla suddenly calls to say that she’s coming home in the middle of a snowstorm. When Darlene is killed on her way home in the same snowstorm, Bell’s suspicions are inflamed. Both Bell and Carla still suffer from traumatic incidents in their pasts that underlie their current problems. Carla’s already lined up a job interviewing older members of the area for a library project, and Bell doesn’t push her to discuss why she’s suddenly come home. Impetuous Carla accidentally gets involved in the investigation, putting herself and others in danger. When a worker at Thornapple Terrace is murdered along with her best friend, Bell suspects another connection, though she doesn’t yet know about the fraught relationship between Harmon and his two childhood friends or the secret they’ve kept for years.
Although this isn’t the best of Keller’s deeply nuanced, beautifully written examinations of life and death in hardscrabble coal country (Last Ragged Breath, 2015, etc.), its exploration of the ravages of Alzheimer’s is deeply moving.