Bitter River by Julia Keller

Julia Keller won a Pulitzer Prize for her work as a reporter and editor for the Chicago bitter-riverTribune, and authors Michael Connelly, C. J. Box, and Scott Turow highly praise her mysteries.

After reading Bitter River, I discovered that it’s the second in a series, but I had no difficulty in understanding it without reading the first book, A Killing in the Hills.  After Bitter River, the series continues with Summer of the Dead, Last Ragged Breath, and Sorrow Road.

The setting of the series is a West Virginia town so small that “everybody is next of kin to everybody else.”  The fact that West Virginia is Keller’s birthplace no doubt helped her in describing that state’s beauty, as well as the desperate desire of many residents to move away from it.

Bell Elkins, the series’ main character, grew up in a series of foster homes in West Virginia, escaping her difficult life to become a lawyer in Washington, D.C.  This novel finds her divorced and back in her home county, where she is now the prosecuting attorney.

Lucinda Trimble, a lovely, talented sixteen-year-old, was the pride of the town.  Everyone was confident that she would leave her economically unprivileged home to attend an elite university.  Then a hiker sees a car at the bottom of Bitter River, and the sheriff discovers Lucinda’s body inside it.

Bell becomes actively involved in this case, which is especially painful for her, since her daughter is only a year older than Lucinda was.  As the townspeople are still reeling from the shock, there’s a shooting at the courthouse and an explosion in the downtown area – and that’s just the beginning!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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