Authors Out Loud: Lunch With Julia Keller

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Are you a mystery reader? If so, I highly recommend Julia Keller, author of the Bell Elkins mystery series. Her books, A Killing in the Hills (2012) and Bitter River (2013), are atmospheric, literary, and utterly engaging. The series centers around Belfa Elkins, an attorney who returns to Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, the scene of her dark and unhappy childhood, to become the county prosecuting attorney. Confronted by the poverty and the increasing power of the meth trade in this rural area, Bell is determined to make a difference in the war against drugs, but is frustrated by the slow progress of change. Together with Nick Fogelsong, the local sherriff and longtime friend and confidante, Bell doggedly continues to fight for the town and people she loves. On the personal front, Bell has a fractured relationship with her ex-husband, a lobbyist in Washington, DC, and her teenage daughter, Carla. Keller’s characters are flawed and multi-dimensional, which makes them all the more realistic and likable.

Keller, a native of West Virginia, knows her location well, and it shows in her books. The beauty of the mountains is vividly drawn, and the stories have a strong sense of place. The landscape is as much a character in her books as any of the people.  Keller's language is rich and descriptive – no terse sentences here!  Keller's books remind me of Louise Penny and Julia Spencer-Fleming, who also write mysteries set in small towns with characters that leap off the page.

If Keller’s name sounds familiar, it might be because you saw her byline in the Chicago Tribune, where she worked for years as a reporter and cultural critic. Keller earned the Tribune its first-ever feature writing Pulitzer Prize for her three-part narrative of a tornado outbreak in Utica, Illinois. She is now on the faculty at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Keller's next Bell Elkins novel, Summer of the Dead, is set for release on August 26, and I can’t wait to read it. Even better, I can get an autographed copy, because Julia Keller will be visiting us at Aspen Drive Library for lunch on August 28 as part of our Authors Out Loud series.  She’s a warm, wise public speaker with terrific insights to share about not only her writing, but about our culture in general. Please join us for lunch with this talented, interesting writer. Register here.



Andrea Larson works as a Readers' Advisor at Cook Park Library and loves to connect great people with great books.  She'll read or watch pretty much anything (except horror -- she's kind of a wimp that way).  She's currently working on her Master's in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.