Review of ‘Bitter River’ by Julia Keller

Bitter River coverThanks to NetGalley and Headline for the ARC of this book.

Oh dear; unfortunately this is a really bad book.

The writing is really clunky. It uses far too many adjectives, loads of tautology, and there is lots of unnecessary detail – it’s fine just to tell me the sheriff opened his notebook; I don’t need to know it’s one of those ones with a cardboard front and spiral wire binding.

With crime and thriller books, you can sometimes forgive poor language if the plot is exciting and twisty or the characters are really engaging, however this book fails on both those accounts also.

The book is a crime novel set in a dying mountain town in West Virginia. It opens with the police finding the body of a murdered school girl, Lucinda Trimble, in a car in the eponymous Bitter River, and follows local law enforcement as they try (not all that hard or efficiently) to solve her murder.

Because the main protagonist, Bell Elkins, is a prosecutor rather than the police, it’s not actually her job to investigate the crime. Therefore, rather than watching the interesting bits of a criminal investigation, such as interviews with witnesses or searching the victim’s possessions for clues, we watch Bell bumbling around, drinking lots of coffee, helping her friend find a place to stay and having awkward conversations with her boyfriend. This also means that an awful lot of the book fails the ‘show don’t tell’ rule with Bell receiving reports second or third hand on the investigation, rather than discovering things for herself. Half way through the book, the only thing which seems to have been achieved as part of the investigation is the autopsy which confirms that Lucinda was murdered.

I was reading the book thinking ‘hang on a moment, the book starts with the discovery of Lucinda’s body, it’s clearly the most important plot line, why are we not spending more time trying to figure out who killed her?’.

Half-way through the book an explosion occurs and it’s clear there is an additional ridiculous terrorism/revenge storyline and obviously Lucinda’s murder is not interesting enough to warrant a whole book. The explosion storyline is a pointless attempt to add a bit of excitement to the plot, but it is just daft and it’s fairly obvious what is behind it. Once we get back to the Lucinda plot line and her killer is finally revealed, it’s not a great pay-off as there haven’t been enough clues to give the reader any inclination about the culprit.

This book is the second in a series following Bell Elkins, maybe if I had read the first book in the series I would care more about Bell and I would be invested in her relationships with her boyfriend, daughter and sister, but I simply did not care at all, they were an unwelcome distraction from the crime procedural which I was expecting to read. I certainly wouldn’t pick up any other books in this series as it was a real effort to read this one.


2 thoughts on “Review of ‘Bitter River’ by Julia Keller”

  1. After reading your review, I now know for sure I won’t be reading Bitter River. I normally enjoy crime novels, but it sounds like this one would end up unfinished against the wall…

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