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FAST FALLS THE NIGHT by Julia Keller: Book Review

West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins is back, and I am delighted.  I am totally devoted to Julia Keller’s series, and this is her most ambitious novel yet.

The novel begins with a painfully personal acknowledgement.  During the author’s recent visit to her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, there was an epidemic of heroin overdoses, twenty-eight in a twenty-four period, with two fatalities.  The national scourge of drugs has severely impacted West Virginia; the state currently has the highest rate of overdoses in the country.

Ms. Keller has put her feelings into Fast Falls the Night, moving the drug crisis to Bell’s hometown.  Acker’s Gap is being particularly hard hit by heroin overdoses and deaths in the single day in which the novel takes place.  The first overdose takes place in The Marathon, a gas station/convenience store that’s manned during the evening hours by Danny Lukens.  He has given the key to the bathroom to a woman who, he’s sure, is going to use it to get high on heroin.  Not his business, he thinks to himself; he doesn’t want any trouble.  But after waiting for more than twenty minutes for the woman to come out, he goes to the restroom and calls through the closed door several times to see if she’s okay.

When there’s no answer, he calls the sheriff’s office and Deputy Jake Oakes arrives.  Having no better luck at getting the woman inside to respond or to open the bathroom door, Jake gets the key from Danny–the woman is lying in the middle of the dirty floor, her face blue, and a used syringe beside her.  That’s the first overdose and the first death.

Even worse than the simple fact of heroin is that carfentanil has been added to the drug that the town’s addicts are using.   It’s an ingredient a hundred times more potent than fentanyl and ten thousand times stronger than morphine and is used to stretch out heroin so that the original drug can be sold more profitably.

Given the incredible number of cases that are springing up all over town, and the underfunded police and district attorney’s offices, Bell is feeling overwhelmed.  There’s simply not enough money or personnel to deal with this problem, but what are the alternatives?  Just wait it out, Bell wonders, and allow the addicts to tempt death every time they inject themselves?  After all, if they don’t care about themselves, why should the police and the courts be concerned?  But, of course, Bell does care, and she’s trying to come up with a plan to get the contaminated drug off the streets.

The official reactions to this crisis are not the only moral points in Fast Falls the Night.  Deputy Jake Oakes is attracted to Molly Drucker, a local EMT, but either she’s not interested in him or something is stopping her from showing her interest.  Bell’s sister Shirley has two devastating pieces of news to give to Bell, her cancer diagnosis being the easier one to talk about.

And what can be done about Raylene Hughes, the negligent mother of an adorable daughter?  Is the child better off with her con-artist mother or with her father, a man whose war experiences and brain injury has made him unreliable and possibly violent?

Julia Keller’s latest mystery ends with as many questions as it answers, as is true of real life.  The characters in the novel, and the plot itself, are mesmerizing, and you will keep reading without letup until the last page.  And even then, you’ll be left wondering.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.




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