Keller has a way with words, capturing the essence of an environment by combining atmosphere with those who inhabit a particular landscape--past or present, the nuanced notes of personality, the remnants of conversation, place worn thin by habitation, especially in Ackerís Gap in Raythune County, West Virginia.
The authorís ease with people and locales renders her stories inhabitable and authentic, even familiar. Pretense a waste of time, she plunges into Sorrow Road with that same understanding of humanity that has steadily won many devoted fans.
Sorrow and loss are implied, given the Alzheimerís facility just outside Ackerís Gap called Thornapple Terrance, where an acquaintance, former FBI prosecutor Darlene Strayer, has recently learned of her fatherís death. Strayer is convinced her father died of unnatural causes, herself recently the victim of threatening calls in Washington, D.C. When prosecutor Belfa Elkins meets with Darlene at a local tavern during a ferocious storm, Strayer shares her concerns. Though the two women have never been close, they share a history in West Virginia: one who stayed and one who left. On the same night as their meeting, Darlene is killed in an accident on the way down a treacherous hill from the bar.
Before Bell can begin an investigation into both Darlene and her fatherís deaths, the Ackerís Gap prosecutor is beset by a family crisis in a place already burdened with brutal weather and dangerous terrain, traveling from one place to another often treacherous. Elkins receives an unexpected call from her daughter, Carla, who elected to move to D.C. to be with her father, high-powered attorney Sam Elkins, after a traumatic murder where her best friend was killed and Carla barely escaped with her life. The change of scene seemed to help, but four years later Carla still struggles with moments of paralyzing fear, her temporary solution creating more problems than she can handle. Now she is on her way home, promising to explain to her mother when sheís ready. Bell is alarmed but has found it best to wait until Carla is ready to share the reason for her decision.
Once Carla is safely home, a reluctant Bell begins her investigation into the deaths of Harlan and Darlene Strayer, father and daughter, but finds no obvious signs of mayhem in either instance. Her investigation is made more complicated because Harmon Strayer died in another county. The prosecutor in that county, Steve Black, is a wily operator who will certainly demand favors in return, favors Bell is reluctant to concede. Although a third threat is evolving at Thornapple Terrace, Bell has more than she can handle when the cases suddenly come together in the middle of a deadly storm and the recent deaths at the Alzheimerís treatment center are are joined by two more.
Trapped in the mad chaos of treacherous weather and bloody violence, Keller breaks from current investigations to describe a significant event from 1938, just before Pearl Harbor, when three young boys, childhood friends, share an experience that will haunt all of their lives. All three young men find pride and purpose in the war, the shared memory of a careless afternoon never spoken of as they return to West Virginia and the rest of their lives. This reference to the history of place--and the long tentacles of the past--allows Keller to embrace the particularity of life in Ackerís Gap, where history is never far away, family ties woven through generations, every event significant.
The characters ultimately form the architecture of Sorrow Road. Keller combines a definitive landscape with authentic personalities, while the confinement of geography, the harsh winter landscape, become a template for the human dramas taking place in Ackerís Gap, West Virginia. A contemporary problem makes way for wartime memories and youthful regrets, then and now merging in the shadows of Appalachia where ďthe mountains lean close to hear the whispered lament of the people trapped in their shadow.Ē