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Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller
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Last Ragged Breath

by Julia Keller

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What started out as an intriguing mystery in Keller's series, set in West Virginia, became a very, very good story about how people view themselves and fit into each other's lives. ( )
  Perednia | Sep 4, 2016 |
Royce Dillard's life is defined by the moment when his father died saving his life in the Buffalo Creek disaster. His trauma has made dealing with others difficult, so he lives as a hermit with several orphan dogs on a small farm land. When the body of an executive from the new development project turns up on Royce's land, he is a prime suspect. Once again delving the world of West Virginia coal-mining country, Keller tells the stories of greed, poverty, opportunity, and loss so entwined in the exploitation of a region. ( )
  4leschats | Apr 16, 2016 |
This author is one of my favorites. I enjoy reading her work because she always has an interesting story to tell. I find myself wanting to read her books more than dealing with daily life, I have to force myself to put the book down and to do my responsibilities. In this story one of my favorite characters, Nick, gets hurt and almost dies. I cheered when Bell figured out the true story behind the murder. I decided that in the next book Clay needs to get Bell a dog that is the same breed as "Goldie" is. Can't wait to read what this author dreams up next. ( )
  BrendaKlaassen | Apr 4, 2016 |
Almost heaven, West Virginia. Or so I have always believed thanks to my mother’s love for John Denver albums. And though she depicts a more nuanced and more tragically flawed version of the place than Denver manages in the three or four minutes a song allows, Julia Keller’s book shows a similar kind of devotion to the area and the people who call it home. LAST RAGGED BREATH is more a long-form love song to place than it is a crime novel, though it’s no slouch on that front either.

As a mystery the book is, at least on the surface, simple and as far from the high body count thrillers the genre is known for. Edward Hackel, a salesman for a high-end resort scheduled to be built in the area, is murdered. Struck on the head with a shovel and dumped in a creek. Suspicion soon falls on Royce Dillard, an enigmatic loner whose personal story is dominated by his survival as a toddler of a disaster that killed over a hundred people including both his parents. Hackel has been badgering Dillard to sell some land the development project desperately needed but that Dillard wanted for his own dream project. Case closed.

Prosecutor Bell Elkins is troubled though. Not necessarily by the idea that Dillard is innocent, though he steadfastly claims to be, but by the reason for the killing. It doesn’t seem like a straightforward premeditated, murder and if there are mitigating circumstances Bell will be able to seek a lesser sentence than lifelong prison for Dillard. Who if not exactly liked by the residents of the fictional town of Acker’s Gap is understood and accepted.

But Bell has other worries too. Her good friend Nick Fogelsong is no longer the town’s Sheriff. He chose to walk away and Bell can’t forgive him even though on one level she understands his decision. Their friendship was rooted in their shared work and now they can’t talk over cases as they always did. What else is there? The exploration of this relationship is a highlight of the novel; real friendship being something of a rarity in a genre replete with lone wolf heroes. Both characters are depicted realistically in the way they cope, or don’t, with the changes life brings and few readers would fail to identify with some aspect of what one or other goes through over the course of this story.

In the end though, and despite a compelling narrative and a host of thoughtfully drawn characters, Keller always draws the reader back to place. We see the good and the bad. The poverty and the wealth. We see people clinging desperately to what little remains of the coal mining industry not because they are unaware of the damage coal does to the planet or those that mine it but because their alternatives are abject poverty or drug running. Or leaving. But as Nick reflects

There was a time when he’d envied anyone who left Acker’s Gap, when he watched them go and felt a kind of wild yearning, when he wondered why Bell Elkins had ever wanted to come back here – but something was shifting inside him. There was a certain solace to knowing a world this well. You knew its flaws, its shortcomings, just as you knew its beauties. And you learned to love it all. You loved the abundance of it, the sweep and immensity of the land, and you loved the sadness and the lack, too.

This is one of those books that I was sad to finish reading not because of the story, or at least not only because of the story, but because I could happily have read more. Fortunately for me I’ve only read the first of this book’s three predecessors, 2012’s A KILLING IN THE HILLS, so I can at least track down the other two. And why wouldn’t I? Keller is a truly gifted writer and the elements that didn’t quite work for me in that first novel are all gone here. LAST RAGGED BREATH is about as flawless as they come.
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 4, 2016 |
The Bell Elkins series set in rural West Virginia This is the 4th in a tightly plotted crime series featuring a kick=ass DA Bell Elkins and a thoroughly well-developed cast of characters. The ending of this one (no spoilers here) should be especially gratifying to long term readers of the series.

As usual Bell is battling the ever increasing poverty, drug trade, and despair that comes from the ending of the coal mining industry in the area. Good history lessons, current events, and terrific plot. Highly recommended. ( )
  tututhefirst | Dec 3, 2015 |
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From the night-black depths of a coalmine to the sun-struck peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, from a riveting murder mystery to a poignant meditation on the meaning of love and family, the latest novel in the critically acclaimed series strikes out for new territory: the sorrow and outrage that spring from a real-life chapter in West Virginia history. Royce Dillard doesn't remember much about the day his parents-and one hundred and twenty-three other souls-died in the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster. He was only two years old when he was ripped from his mother's arms. But now Dillard, who lives off the grid with only a passel of dogs for company, is fighting for his life one more time: He's on trial for murder. Prosecutor Bell Elkins faces her toughest challenge yet in this haunting story of vengeance, greed and the fierce struggle for social justice. Richly imagined, vividly written and deeply felt, Last Ragged Breath is set in West Virginia, but it really takes place in a land we all know: the country called home.… (more)

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