(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: Although this review will not contain spoilers for Bitter River, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first Bell Elkins mystery. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
Despite its quaint appearance, Acker's Gap, West Virginia, is no stranger to violence. Especially not the rough, desperate kind that grows from the hopeless, soul-sucking poverty so common in down-on-their-luck mountain towns. Still, no one can quite comprehend how a girl with such a bright future ended up dead on the bottom of the Bitter River. A 16-year-old honor student, Lucinda Trimble could have really gone places—unlike the average Acker's Gap high schooler. The discovery of her hidden pregnancy just adds to the shock. Did the baby's father freak out and murder Lucinda? If not, then who did?
It's up to Sheriff Nick Fogelsong to figure out what happened to Lucinda Trimble. As Nick's longtime friend and confidante, prosecuting attorney Belfa "Bell" Elkins will play his unofficial assistant. The case is consuming enough, but Bell's got other problems. Her older sister, who spent three decades in prison for killing their abusive father, is out on parole. Bell wants to help Shirley reenter society—Shirley wants nothing to do with her. Then, there's Carla, Bell's 17-year-old daughter, who's living in D.C. with her flashy lobbyist father. Carla's already fragile emotionally—how is Bell going to break the news about Lucinda, who was her good friend? To add to her troubles, Nick's acting weird and Bell's own emotions are all over the place when it comes to her new relationship with her much younger boyfriend. As trouble in town escalates, Bell must put her personal problems on the back burner and focus on finding a killer. The closer she gets, of course, the more dangerous things become. Can Bell keep an eye on everyone she loves while watching her own back? Or will she become the killer's next target?
I fell in love with Acker's Gap and its fearless prosecuting attorney after reading A Killing in the Hills, the first book in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller. Bitter River, the second, continues her story in a novel even more compelling than its predecessor. Like the first book, it offers a twisty plot (my guesses about the murderer's identity were ALL wrong), a complex heroine (her very human flaws make her even more appealing), and an intimate (but unflinching) portrait of West Virginia's mountain people. All of these elements combined to create another deep, affecting thriller that kept me riveted to the page—and eager to continue on with this excellent series.
(Readalikes: Other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills; Summer of the Dead; and Last Ragged Breath)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for strong language, violence/gore, and sexual content
To the FTC, with love: Another library