A race against time to stop people dying

Julia Keller has written a number of crime novels based in a fictional town in West Virginia. The area is one of great poverty as heavy industry and mining have ceased operating and the result is that many inhabitants have lost hope for themselves and their children and there is a huge drugs issue. The main character in these books is Bel Elkins, a woman who had an abusive childhood but has broken free and is now the state prosecutor for the area working with law enforcement. I’ve read several of this series but they were earlier books – I don’t think you need to read them in order or to have read others before you start on this one.

Fast Falls the Night is written about one day in the life of the town. Some drugs are being distributed which are having a lethal effect and people are dying or having overdoses. The book follows Bel but also other key figures in the town including a gas station attendant, the sheriff, the deputy, a paramedic, another prosecutor and Bel’s sister. These people have to find out who is selling these drugs and how to prevent other people dying.

This is a truly gripping story and the frequent changes in narrator allow you to see many sides of the same issue. The point that many characters keep coming back to is whether it is sensible to use scarce resources to try and prevent drug addicts from overdosing – surely, they take illegal substances at their own risk and maybe they are not citizens that will be missed. The book uses the opportunity to show how some people have ended up being addicted and the dreams and ambitions they once had and others had for them – one of the narrators is a young woman who has just taken some of the tainted drugs and is dying.

The way that the book is written emphasises the message that drugs are destructive but it also shows you that so too are lack of opportunities and poverty. It’s not really a mystery story, although the characters do want to find out who is distributing the drugs, but it is more a glimpse into one day in a town and the lives of many of its people. Other things happen as well – Bel’s sister has something very important to tell her and one character spends a lot of the book wanting to ask a paramedic for a date – but these are woven into the rest of the activity.

This isn’t a really dark book, despite the subject matter, but more a book about people and lost opportunities. I found it gripping and easy to read, although ultimately it is sad. The narrative style allows you to see events from many different angles and restricting the story to just one day is very effective. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this author’s stories until I read this one and might now seek out others in the series that I haven’t yet read.

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