Bitter River is a murder mystery involving the death of Lucinda Trimble, a talented 16-year-old girl, who is found dead in the Bitter River. The story is set in the West Virginia mountain town of Ackers Gap, a place peopled with pragmatic folks dealing with economic hardships who have little to no trust of outsiders. Raythune County prosecutor Belfa Elkins, who grew up in various foster homes after the death of her violent father, has returned to her hometown of Ackers Gap after a failed marriage to find healing in the mountains.
Julia Keller writes with melodic prose that pulled me into the story from the first page and kept me wanting more – until the last third of the book when the plot became overly contrived with a subplot involving an international terrorist and the writing felt rushed. I started to turn pages restlessly to get to the end, which was, for me, unsatisfying.
As for character development, I liked and admired Bell Elkins, a pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going woman, who is both tough and vulnerable. She would be fun at Happy Hour. Many of the peripheral characters are drawn clearly enough that one can recognize in them somebody we know and with whom we can empathize.
All in all Bitter River is a good book. The first 2/3 is excellent. If Ms. Keller writes another episode in the life of Bell Elkins, I will read it.
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