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Last Ragged Breath    by Julia Keller order for
Last Ragged Breath
by Julia Keller
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2016 (2015)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Last Ragged Breath is the fourth (following Summer of the Dead) in Julia Keller's noir mystery series starring West Virginia prosecutor Belfa 'Bell' Elkins, a heroine with grit and guts. Divorced from her lobbyist husband Sam (who has been joined by their eighteen-year-old daughter Carla in Washington, D.C.), Bell lives and works in small town Acker's Gap.

She was very comfortable working with town sheriff Nick Fogelsong, a close friend and father figure, but was devastated when he retired (and has angrily avoided him ever since!) Now he works as head of security for the Highway Haven chain and Pam Harrison has taken over as Sheriff. Bell meets Nick to alert him to look out for a major new distributor of oxycodone. This is not good news, given Mountain Magic's plans for a new world class resort in the area.

This episode opens on a dog's discovery of a drowned corpse. Turns out to be that of the resort firm's marketing guy, Hackel, who had been pressuring a local recluce, Dillard, to sell a thin strip of land, needed for interstate access for their new property. 'No land - no resort.' Dillard himself had a tragic past, orphaned at age two after an environmental disaster caused by coal company negligence. Now he takes in dogs and plans to use the disputed land for a canine animal sanctuary. When he's held in custody, Bell ends up having to care for one of his dogs, and surprises herself by growing attached to Goldie.

While the investigation proceeds, Nick feels left out and starts to wonder if he made the right decision. Meanwhile, Mountain Magic CEO Carolyn Runyon, who has 'more connections than a junction box' and had had an affair with the (married) deceased, lays on the pressure for Dillard's arrest. Which happens after evidence is found implicating him, though he insists on his innocence. Then, the trial imminent, the oxy trade explodes in violence, distracting everyone concerned from the main event. But are the two connected?

As always, Bell figures it out - and is rewarded with a very pleasant personal surprise at the end of this episode. And Goldie goes home. I love this series, which just keeps on getting better. Don't miss any of it.

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