Bitter River: Book summary and reviews of Bitter River by Julia Keller

Bitter River

A Bell Elkins Novel

By Julia Keller

Bitter River
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2013,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

In the next stunning novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning Julia Keller, following the popular A Killing in the Hills, a pregnant teenager is found murdered at the bottom of a river.

Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2012. Set in Acker's Gap, a beautiful but poverty-stricken West Virginia mountain town, Keller's combination of shocking suspense and spellbinding characterization garnered her four starred reviews and won over critics and readers alike. Bell Elkins, the county prosecuting attorney, is the main character alongside the town itself, where she grew up - her family story is part and parcel of the tragedy of the place, but she hasn't given up on it. Like Dana Stabenow's Alaska or Dennis Lehane's South Boston, the place defines the people and their stories.

Bell's latest case is a bad one: pregnant sixteen-year-old Lucinda Trimble's body has been found at the bottom of Bitter River. And Lucinda didn't drown - she was dead before her body ever hit the water.  But that's not all Bell is coping with these days. Her daughter is now living with Bell's ex-husband, hours away. Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, one of Bell's closest friends, is behaving oddly. Furthermore, a face from her past has resurfaced for reasons Bell can't quite figure. Searching for the truth, both behind Lucinda's murder and behind her own complicated relationships, will lead Bell down a path that might put her very life at risk.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. A worthy follow-up to Bell's debut: a literate, gritty, character-driven tale with another surprise ending." - Kirkus

"A worthy sequel to [Keller's] well-received adult fiction debut, A Killing in the Hills." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Once again, Keller combines masterful storytelling, a vivid sense of place - the beauty and poverty of Appalachia - a complex cast of characters, and a suspenseful, superbly executed plot that displays a depth rarely seen in mystery fiction." - Booklist

"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

The information about Bitter River shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Vivian T. (Charleston, WV)
Small Town Troubles Continued
BITTER RIVER starts off with a murder and the problems just keep coming. Bell Elkins is now dealing with empty nest syndrome (her daughter decided to relocate to Washington DC and finish her high school education there), she has a beau (that is quite a number of years younger than she is), and problems are still hounding this small WV town. The most prominent is the murder of a pregnant 16 y.o. student/athlete that was respected and adored by almost everyone. To complicate the issue the murdered student's mother is a former love-interest of the sheriff. If that weren't bad enough someone has taken pot-shots at the prosecuting attorney's office. Ms. Keller has provided a great read that continues where A KILLING IN THE HILLS left off. Her stories are filled with characters and scenarios that are realistic and wholly believable. I read BITTER RIVER in one sitting and can't want for the next installment in this series.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Shirley F. (Franksville, WI)
Bitter River
I enjoyed the mental mechanics of this book and trying to determine who did it. The characters were for the most part well drawn, the story was engaging, and the ending a surprise. I did not care for the constant similes in the beginning of the book. It bothered me that so many crimes occurred in a little place- with one stop light - and the DA was so busy!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sherri A. (Westbrook, CT)
Bitter River
Ackers Gap, WV...a place you'd never want to visit, but a place that surely stays with you long after you've finished reading either book in Julia Keller's fantastic series (so far...there better be lots more!). Belfa Elkins (but don't you EVER call her that, she goes by Bell) is such a well thought-out, realistic character that I would follow her anywhere--so her being the prosecuting attorney in small-town West Virginia, with her own dark past, makes these mysteries a MUST READ...the second is every bit as good as the first, and that's saying a LOT...

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA)
Second book just as good
The same setting as A Killing in the Hills, Bitter River has the same unique blend of mystery and character relationships. The descriptions are vivid although a little overdone sometimes. Bell, the county prosecutor, frequently must deal with crimes against people she has known most of her life. This novel focuses around the death of a promising young pregnant teen; still, the murder is not a focus of the story as much as the town.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Rita H. (Centennial, CO)
Bitter River
Bitter River is an engrossing mystery story set in a small town in West Virginia. Beginning with the murder of a young teenage girl, the story unfolds with yet more deaths and disasters. References to previous murders detracted from my enjoyment because it highlighted the fact that I had not read a book which apparently preceded this one and I do not like to read series books out of order. I really enjoyed the book and found the characters to be believable. I enjoyed the romance between Bell and Clay and I was satisfied with the story's ending and the final irony surrounding the character, Eddie.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lauren C. (Los Angeles, CA)
Enjoyed this more at the start than by the time I finished it
I very much enjoyed "Bitter River" when I started reading it. The mystery started immediately, with a dead girl pulled from a car found in the river. The main character, prosecutor Bell Elkins was also interesting, living in the small town of Ackers Gap where she grew up. When the book first starts she is looking for her sister Shirley who was just released from prison but who disappeared. I also liked that Keller went into the background of other people in town so that it wasn't just a mystery where you only get to know the key characters.

But then Keller went overboard with explaining the backgrounds of every single person in town. I felt like hundreds of pages in, I knew everyone but the mystery wasn't any closer to being resolved and the plotline with the sister seemed to have vanished altogether. Finally things were resolved, but I didn't feel that the rationale behind the murder was particularly imaginative and unraveling it wasn't handled in a suspenseful or intriguing way.

I thought initially that I'd give this five stars based on my first impression of the book, but by the end was just ready to finish, so I've downgraded my rating to four stars instead.

...18 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Julia Keller Author Biography

Julia Keller spent twelve years as a reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune, where she won a Pulitzer Prize. A recipient of a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, she was born in West Viriginia and lives in Chicago and Ohio.

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