Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.
The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. To the people of the small town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, it is just another tragedy. It is sad—but these days, depressingly familiar.
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. While the clock ticks and the bodies fall, Bell and her colleagues desperately track the source of the deadly drug—and engage in fierce debates over the wisdom of expending precious resources to save the lives of self-destructive addicts.
Despite its 24-hour timeline, Keller's sixth Bell Elkins novel (after 2016's Sorrow Falls) feels less than urgent. In a plot inspired by a true story, a tainted batch of heroin makes its way through Acker's Gap, W.Va., putting police and paramedics into overtime as dozens of addicts overdose. County prosecutor Bell and Deputy Jake Oakes quickly trace the source and warn a community to which they sometimes turn a blind eye. Procedural readers will be disappointed by the lack of case-changing reveals, but they may be assuaged by Keller's skill in depicting the strained relationship between a realistic but unjaded law enforcement team and those whom they could but don't generally prosecute, while treating all the players with human compassion. Keller keeps a core series theme deep connections in a small multigenerational community strong by bringing in old family secrets through a secondary plot focusing on child abuse and dramatic developments in Bell's relationship with her ex-felon sister.