Pick of the Week: Bitter River by Julia Keller
Mystery Writer Julia Keller
Julia Keller follows up last year’s terrific debut novel, A Killing in the Hills, with another gripping mystery set in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains.
In Keller’s second novel, Bitter River, Prosecutor Bell Elkins continues to struggle with her personal life. She desperately misses her teen daughter Carla, who is living with Bell’s ex-husband in Washington, D.C. She is seeing a man 15 years younger than her and is trying to keep their relationship hidden. She keeps hoping her sister Shirley will finally come home after being released from prison for killing their child-molester father many years ago. She is also distracted by a friend from the past, a former CIA agent who wants to spend some time in the town, looking for peace and quiet.
But solitude can be hard to come by in Ackers Gap. When 16-year-old Lucinda Trimble’s body is found in the Bitter River, her murder rocks the poor town. Lucinda had shown great promise and was hoping to be one of the few teens from Acker’s Gap to go to college. Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong team up to solve the murder and learn that Lucinda was pregnant at the time of her death. The leading suspect is Lucinda’s boyfriend, who insists he loved the girl and wanted to marry her. The boy’s mother, who disapproved of the relationship, also is a prime suspect.
Keller, who grew up in West Virginia, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while working at the Chicago Tribune. She clearly is a talented writer, and her novels are full of descriptive, authentic prose and wonderful character development. Packed with plot twists, Bitter River will keep the reader going to the very end. Keller has created a fascinating, fiery protagonist in Bell Elkins whose adventures I look forward to continue following.