Summer of the Dead, by Julia Keller, is a crime thriller set in small town West Virginia during a stifling summer. The backdrop of poverty and a socially stunted community mingle with descriptions of oppressive heat to create a claustrophobic tension as a series of murders unfold. Few clues are left for the forces of law and order to investigate. Everyone it seems has a criminal record, a drug problem or unsavoury family secrets that are suspected but rarely discussed. This is a place where residents expect few favours, each looking out for their own, raised to keep thoughts and feelings to themselves.
The protagonist is a prosecuting attorney with her own damaged past. Raised locally she understands the people she is dealing with and works hard to follow the rules that justice may be served. I did wonder about the repercussions when she failed in this endeavour, but the potential fallout for herself and the cases she was working on were barely touched upon.
In many ways the progression of the story reminded me of television crime shows: the slow build up; improbable fight scene; subsequent reveal of who was who, their relationships to each other, and why they acted as they did. As a crime novel it was easy to read. It offered false leads, twists, turns and surprises along the way. The book is atmospheric and nicely written. What I felt it lacked was depth and, at times, plausibility. I guess a work of fiction does not always have to be real.
Neither does every book written have to be a literary masterpiece. I found it difficult to empathise with the characters but I could appreciate the structure and pace of the developing plot. At times I had to check back to remind myself who was who, but I always wanted to know what happened next.
I would recommend this book to fans of compelling, gritty, crime dramas. This is the third book in a series. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I preceded it with episodes one and two.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.