The murder of 16-year-old Lucinda Trimble, whose strangled body is found in a car in the Bitter River, propels Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Keller’s worthy sequel to her well-received adult fiction debut, A Killing in the Hills (2012). As West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins and the rest of closely knit Acker’s Gap struggle to fathom who could have wanted to kill the popular high school honor student, a sniper fires at the county courthouse, almost killing Bell’s assistant. Days later, a devastating explosion levels Ike’s diner, moments after the divorced attorney finished breakfast with her much younger lover, Clay Meckling. Suddenly, remote Acker’s Gap seems under siege, with Bell, stalwart sheriff Nick Fogelsong, and their team scrambling to find answers before the next attack. Ultimately, some of them prove less interesting than the questions Keller, a native West Virginian, poses about the nature of friendship and family—as well as the engaging, unsentimentalized Appalachian community she has created. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Sept.)
“Julia Keller is a beautiful writer and Bitter River has an elegiac force to it that is powerful and gripping. Bell Elkins is one of the most fully realized characters in fiction today. I just turned the last page on this one and I want more.” MICHAEL CONNELLY
“Julia Keller's lyrical and evocative prose in Bitter River propels the novel until all you can do is hang on until the final page. Her sense of place is spot-on and bittersweet.” C.J. BOX
“Gripping suspense, a fabulous sense of place and nuanced characters you can't wait to come back to. A must read.” KARIN SLAUGHTER
“Remarkably written and remarkably tense. . .I loved it.” DENNIS LEHANE
“A gripping, beautifully-crafted murder mystery. . .Great reading.” SCOTT TUROW
“A terrific debutatmospheric, suspenseful, assured.” LAURA LIPPMAN
“Clear the weekend, silence the phone and settle into Acker's Gap, a place as fascinating and fraught with violence and beauty as Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks or William Gay's Tennessee. A killer novel.” TOM FRANKLIN
“A soulful depiction of a beautiful, besieged afterthought of a town.” People
“Outstanding.” Publishers Weekly (starred review, Pick of the Week)
“Engrossing...[A] superbly detailed and suspense-drenched mystery.” Library Journal (starred review, Debut of the Month)
“A powerful debut.” Oline Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Keller's (A Killing in the Hills) second mystery is again set in Acker's Gap, WV. Here, the body of a pregnant young woman, Lucinda Trimble, is found in a car in the Bitter River, but an autopsy reveals that she was strangled before she went into the water. Prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong dig into Lucinda's complicated past to identify her killer. As the story progresses, the investigation takes a backseat to a detailed examination of life in a small, decaying Appalachian town. Keller gives us numerous character studies of its inhabitants and provides a feel for living in the mountains. She also tells a problematic secondary story regarding a man from Elkins's past whose appearance in town leads to a tragedy, which serves as a distraction from the main portion of the novel. Reader Shannon McManus does an excellent job with the story. VERDICT Recommended to listeners interested in stories set in Appalachia. ["Even an imperfect Keller novel is still well worth readers' time. Recommend to mystery lovers who enjoy richly drawn settings and whip-smart heroines," read the review of the Minotaur: St. Martin's hc, LJ Xpress Reviews, 8/30/13.]—Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Parkersburg Lib.
A tough prosecutor in a small West Virginia town battles criminals and inner demons. Bell Elkins grew up poor in Acker's Gap, made a success of her life against all odds, married a local boy, made good and moved on to a high-paying job in Washington before giving it all up and returning to her mountain town. Now, her teen daughter is living with her father in D.C. after her involvement with one of Bell's cases almost proved the death of her. Bell, who loves her job and her beautiful, dirt-poor hometown, is waiting hopefully for her sister, who killed their father in order to protect Bell, to come back home after her release from prison. While she waits, she and her friend Sheriff Nick Fogelsong have a tough case to solve: the murder of a promising high school student, Lucinda Trimble, who refused to give up her unborn baby. Lucinda's mother is a flower child who ekes out a living selling folk art to tourists, her father a high school bad boy, always in trouble, who still cares for the daughter he deserted years ago. The high school sweetheart Lucinda was set to marry becomes a suspect, along with the members of his disapproving family. Meanwhile, Bell's latest romantic interest loses a leg when the town's popular restaurant is blown to smithereens (accident? bomb?), killing several of her friends. And she must cope with an old friend, a former CIA interrogator, who needs to spend some time in a peaceful setting but may be bringing his dangerous past with him. A worthy follow-up to Bell's debut (A Killing in the Hills, 2012): a literate, gritty, character-driven tale with another surprise ending.