Bell Elkins Books in Order: How to read Julia Keller’s series?

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Murder in West Virginia…

What is the Bell Elkins series about?

Bell Elkins is the main protagonist in the crime series written by American writer and former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller.

More precisely, at the beginning of the series, Bell Elkins is the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, West Virginia, a region scarred by poverty and prescription drug abuse.

She works with her closest friend, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, trying to help the dying mountain town of Acker’s Gap, her hometown, and the strong, proud people who inhabit it.

How to read the Bell Elkins Books in Order?

Every book in the Bell Elkins series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.

  1. A Killing in the Hills – Three elderly men are gunned down over their coffee at a local diner, and seemingly half the town is there to witness the act. Still, no one seems to have gotten a good look at the shooter. One of the witnesses to the brutal incident was Carla Elkins, teenaged daughter of Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Carla was shocked and horrified by what she saw, but after a few days, she begins to recover enough to believe that she might be uniquely placed to help her mother do her job.
  2. Bitter River – Phone calls before dawn are never good news. So when Bell Elkins picks up the phone she already knows she won’t like what she’s about to hear, but she’s still not prepared for this: 16-year-old Lucinda Trimble’s body has been found at the bottom of Bitter River. And Lucinda didn’t drown―she was dead before her body ever hit the water.
  3. The Devil’s Stepdaughter (a novella) – This is a prequel story that takes us back to the year Bell turns eleven when she was living with a foster family in the beautiful but poverty-stricken mountains of West Virginia.
  4. Summer of the Dead – It’s high summer in Acker’s Gap, a small town nestled in the beautiful but poverty-stricken West Virginia mountains―but no one’s enjoying the rugged natural landscape. Not while a killer stalks the town and its hard-luck inhabitants. Bell Elkins and her closest friend, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, are stymied by a murderer who seems to come and go like smoke on the mountain.
  5. A Haunting of the Bones (a novella) – Bell Elkins had always believed that her mother abandoned the family. But, during an excavation, a skeleton is found. DNA testing proves it is related to a convicted felon named Shirley Dolan. Along with the age and approximate time of death, the DNA link leads to a chilling conclusion: These are the remains of Bell’s mother.

  1. Ghost Roll (a novella) – For the third day running, Bell has woken up from the same dream. A dream about a boy needing her help, reaching out to her. Bell, always unable to help. Already unsettled, she becomes embroiled in an investigation into a couple running a local daycare center, and Bell suspects that her day is only going to get worse.
  2. Last Ragged Breath – 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.
  3. Evening Street (a novella) – Bell Elkins volunteers at an auxiliary intensive care unit where nurses deal with the children born to mothers addicted to painkillers. The place is known as Evening Street. One night, the father of an Evening Street baby breaks into the facility. Gun in hand, he holds the staff hostage and demands a reckoning for a family grudge
  4. Sorrow Road – Bell Elkins is asked by an old acquaintance to look into the death of her beloved father in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Did he die of natural causes―or was something more sinister to blame? And that’s not the only issue with which Bell is grappling: Her daughter Carla has moved back home. But something’s not right. Carla is desperately hiding a secret.
  5. Fast Falls the Night – The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. But then there is another overdose. And another. And another. Prosecutor Bell Elkins soon realizes that her Appalachian hometown is facing its starkest challenge yet: a day of constant heroin overdoses from a batch tainted with a lethal tranquilizer.

  1. Bone on Bone – Bell Elkins is back in Acker’s Gap. And she finds herself in the white-hot center of a complicated and deadly case. A prominent local family has fallen victim to the same sickness that infects the whole region: drug addiction. Bell has lost her job as a prosecutor – but not her affection for her ragtag, hard-luck hometown. Teamed up with former Deputy Jake Oakes, Bell tackles a case as poignant as it is perilous, as heartbreaking as it is challenging.
  2. The Cold Way Home – Deep in the woods just outside Acker’s Gap, rises a ragged chunk of what was once a high stone wall. This is all that remains of Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital for the poor that burned to the ground decades ago. And it is here that Bell Elkins makes a grim discovery while searching for a missing teenager: A dead body, marred by a ghastly wound that can only mean murder.

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    1. I think the series is probably more suspenseful if it is read in order; however, if that’s not possible, just read in any order. Keller is so brilliant, so imaginative, so in control of every scene that it is worth reading her books several times.

  1. I know this is a dumb question but what was your thought process behind mixing fictional counties and geography with actual West Virginia locations. It’s intriguing and I’m curious.

    1. I apologize. This site was linked to the author’s page so is assumed she or her staff monitored it. My bad!

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