Bitter River
Date Published02 September 2013
Price£ 19.99

Bitter River

by Julia Keller

County Prosecutor Bell Elkins investigates the murder of a young girl found strangled in the waters of the Bitter River. In the small town of Acker’s Gap, everyone knows everyone else and the murderer must be one of them ...


Acker’s Gap is a small town in Raythune County, in the mountains of West Virginia, so when the body of local teenager Laura Trimble is found in her car at the bottom of the Bitter River, it is the responsibility of Sheriff Nick Fogelsong and county prosecutor Bell Elkins to investigate. Laura is beautiful, intelligent, athletic and three months pregnant. She is also the daughter of an ex-hippie who makes a marginal living selling tourist trinkets and she is engaged to the son of an affluent car dealer. 

The prime suspects are her fiancé and his family, but there is little evidence and the family closes ranks. Meanwhile, as the investigation progresses, there are some incidents in the town. A single shot is fired at County Hall then the local diner is destroyed in an explosion. It appears to be an accident, but is it? 

This is a book primarily about the jealousies and prejudices of living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and many people are struggling to make a living. Bell admits to herself that her views of both Laura’s mother and the fiancé’s family are coloured by their history. Having grown up in the town, she is very careful to keep her own relationships private. The book is also about how the concerns of the wider world can impinge on the private world of a small town with devastating consequences.

The writing and characters are eminently believable, with plenty of twists to the plot and the resolution of both puzzles (the murder and the explosion), arising from unexpected directions. Although it is the second in a series, it is not necessary to have read the previous installment to appreciate the back story. There is enough explanation of previous events where they have an impact on the current story. The book does reflect the obsession of many Americans with terrorism and this is, perhaps, the part of the book that demands the greatest suspension of disbelief, although it is handled with some sensitivity.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read that kept me guessing almost to the last page.

Reviewed 05 April 2014 by Sylvia Wilson