Today’s guest blog is by Julia Keller the author of A Killing in the Hills, a crime novel published by Headline. The first in a series of books to feature prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins who campaigns against the illegal trading of prescription drugs which is prevalent in rural America. The series is set in the fictional town of Acker’s Gap West Virginia. In 2005 she won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing whilst a journalist with the Chicago Tribune.
Had you chanced to be bedevilled by a daunting mystery or flummoxed by the loss of a favourite object, and had you lived in Huntington, West Virginia, some years ago, you would have done yourself a considerable favour by stopping in at my house. For I ran a detective agency. Moreover, despite the fact that I was in fourth grade, it was an excellent one; we were clever, discreet, and indefatigable.
Armed with a notebook, a well-sharpened pencil, and a couple of shiny bicycles—on the off chance that a particular case required travel—we offered our services at a fee that could fit most budgets. Twenty-five cents gained you my full attention, as well as that of my associate, my six-year-old sister Lisa. Lost dogs, missing caps, misplaced eyeglasses: Name your mystery and we hastened to solve it.
I now write crime fiction. And I can draw a line from my early career as the owner-operator of a detective agency to my current profession, a line that loops around a passionate love for comic book superheroes and their crime-fighting ways and then makes a great sweeping curve around TV crime shows such as “The Wire” and “The Closer,” before finally coming to rest at “A Killing in the Hills” (Headline), the first in my series of novels about Belfa Elkins, a short-tempered but tough and effective prosecuting attorney in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains.
I recall an especially difficult case handled by my agency. A client could not find the red leather leash for her dog. She was certain that she had left it on her porch, but a check of the premises yielded nothing. The “Aha!” moment came when I heard the dull roar of an electric mower, as a neighbour of hers finished trimming his lawn. My client’s lawn, I noticed, was beautifully shorn; it was proof that her grass had recently been cut. I began to sift the soft blanket of cut grass around the edges of the porch. Success! The leash had slipped off the porch and, when the mower swept by, the cut grass had managed to obscure the leash beneath a blanket of green.
What motivated the creation of the Keller Detective Agency—and what accounts for the popularity of crime fiction—is a certain earnest gallantry, a sense that the world must be put right again, after being blurred and scrambled and turned upside-down by perfidy, or sometimes simply by blind happenstance. The satisfaction of writing and reading crime fiction is indistinguishable from the delights of running a detective agency. Young and old, we believe that lost leashes were meant to be found, that two and two must equal four, that the universe ought to be comprehensible. Because it is not, heaven knows, always kind or just. That universe should—after we have sifted through all the clues—finally make sense to us, even if that sense seems fragile, shifting, and tentative.
And for that bit of wisdom, I’ve consented to waive my usual twenty-five-cent fee.
More information about Julia Keller and her work can be found on her website.