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Bitter River

(Bell Elkins #2)

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  2,478 ratings  ·  390 reviews
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.

Phone calls before dawn are never good news. And when you're the county's prosecuting attorney, calls from the sheriff are rarely good news, either. So when Bell Elkins picks up the phone she alrea
Paperback, 400 pages
Published July 29th 2014 by Minotaur Books (first published September 1st 2013)
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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,478 ratings  ·  390 reviews

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Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Hook - When one of my GR friends reviewed Summer of the Dead the third Bell Elkins Mysteries it occurred to me I hadn’t even read the second in the series. I loved #1, A Killing In the Hills so what was I waiting for?

The Line – “Sometimes it was better to leave people with a clean bright dream of what might have been—than to get involved in the ragtag mess of reality.

The Sinker – Like the John Denver song, Country Roads, Julia Keller’s Bitter River evokes the beauty and the hardship of the
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This is another wonderful story set in Acker's Gap, West Virginia. Bell Elkins is the star of the novel, a promising lawyer who returned home to become Raythune County's prosecuting attorney. Helped and assisted by her friend and long time anchor after a troubled childhood, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong.
With such main characters the series is crime centred; here it is an investigation into the murder of a pregnant teenager.
However the canvas is as broad as the Appalachian Mountains which brood over the
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I read the first book in this series -- A Killing in the Hills -- I was frustrated by what seemed to be way too much back story in proportion to the amount of actual crime investigation, but chalked it up to setting the stage for the series. I expected this one to have less background -- we now know the characters and the town -- and more action. While there certainly was action -- much of it totally ridiculous -- there was also a ton of description of the run-down and hopeless town. It's r ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook, one-of-mine
Wow and wow again! I read book #1 "A Killing in the Hills" and enjoyed the setting of West Virginia and the character of Bell Elkins. I knew I wanted to read the second book of the series but got distracted by so much new stuff - you know, all the pledges of the next "Gone Girl". Well, this is teaching me to not neglect my series books. I loved this addition and it took some very unexpected turns that were quite shocking. I know I will not be taking so long to read the next one.

In this edition,
May 09, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Thanks 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 chara
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it's sophomore slump, I hope, but this book was less successful on every level than her first. The description of the West Virginia mountain town is the best thing about the book. The characters, except for Bell and Nick the sheriff, are pretty forgettable, or unlikeable, or both.

There are too many plot lines, and several of them are just plain silly - the whole terrorist thing, for one - and the final reveal of the killer of the young woman found dead in the first chapter comes from so fa
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think the 2nd in the series was as good a read as "A Killing in the Hills". The CIA plot seemed contrived. The murderer seemed fabricated for surprise with too little foreshadowing. I think there is hope for this series. The author has made it clear that Bell Elkins loves West VIrginia so let's move on to the real problems and crime in Appalachia and not rely on unlikely terrorist plots. I loved getting a glimpse of Mary Sue ( sheriff's wife) and hope her character plays a more prominen ...more
Peter T. Tomaras
WSJ gave good review, checked Amazon, there were some bad reviews, but most were good. I should have believed the bad ones: "Ordinary, and maybe plain bad," "Bogged Down in Details," and "Good Book Spoiled by Excess." I second all those emotions. This author apparently has a series featuring small-town D.A. Bell Elkins, and has a following, but I jumped in on this one, and I almost "returned" the Kindle version for a refund. Keller never met a modifier she doesn't love, and sets a record for tan ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I have it generous stars. It hovered between a 2.5 & a 3. Decent story line, but seeming like it's never ending. Kind of a tedious, dragged out read for me. I couldn't wait to just finish it and move on to my next book.
Naomi V
Aug 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, mystery, fiction
3-1/2 stars

This was a really good mystery; different from most I've read lately. Bell Elkins has returned to her home in Ackers Gap to "do good" but she's not some young idealistic girl with no idea what she's getting into. She grew up in this Appalachian town in West Virginia and has lived in Washington DC, but wants to use her skill and education to make a difference where it's needed more.

Her high-school age daughter has recently moved to DC to live with her father and Bell is on her own now
Aug 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 "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
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again Julia Keller takes us back to the small community of Acker’s Gap and Bell Elkins. This is the follow up to ‘A Killing in the Hills’. Bell has to deal with the death of a pregnant teenager, in suspicious circumstances and some unusual violent acts taking place over the town.

I’ve grown to love the characters of Bell Elkins and the sheriff, Nick Fogelsong. There is a complexity to these characters and a real depth to them. Bell really is quite fascinating. We now know the horrific back s
Ami Sands
I was disappointed in this sequel to A Killing in the Hills. I loved the first book, thought it was well written, suspenseful, smart, with a beautifully evoked setting.

The sequel was thinner, straining with a series of plot twists right up to the climax. The ending, though a shock, lacked credulity. A good ending to a mystery/thriller should be unexpected, but make perfect sense once you arrive there. This ending was yanked out of the blue and was absurd, not in keeping with the characters, as t
Apr 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous book...loved it as much as the first novel in the series, A Killing in the Hills. Julia Keller can write and she can tell a mean story. Bitter River can stand alone but I absolutely recommend reading the first novel as well as it is so good.

Bell Elkins, a lawyer who is the prosecutor in the small town in West Virginia where she grew up, is faced with the murder of a 16 year old girl who was found murdered in the Bitter River. Bell had a traumatic and violent childhood but has risen abov
I'm on a murder mystery kick. And i like to say it like this: muurrrrrderrrrr mystery.
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
This is the second installment of the Bell Elkins series.

Though I liked the first, I felt as if the follow-up was better.

If you're looking for a fast-paced suspense or a non-stop action thriller, this is not it.

This is a "slow" moving mystery in which the actual mystery (or in this case interweaving mysteries) is background music for the real story which is the development of the town and the people in it.

Keller is a talented writer who loves her metaphors and similes. She also takes great care
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Judi by: BookBrowse
Shelves: read-in-2013
I posted my review on BookBrowse since my review copy came from them. I am giving it two stars "It was O.K." and gave it the rating of "Average" on BookBrowse. Here's what I said on BookBrowse:

Set in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, it centers on solving a pregnant teenage girl’s murder in the small mountain town of Acker’s Gap in Rathune County. Belfa Elkins is prosecuting attorney of Raythune County and although the story is told in third person, it is mostly her point of view; her
Concealed beneath the water, her body waits to be found.

Sixteen-year-old pregnant Lucinda Trimble from Acker's Gap High-school is found dead in a car in the Bitter River.

Sheriff Nick Fogelsong had a relationship with Lucinda's mother Maddie Trimble twenty seven years ago. Telling Maddie that her daughter was dead was the hardest thing that he ever had to do in his life.

Maddie did not understand how her daughter was dead. She had checked her daughter before she went to bed and could see that her
Gail Strickland
Meh. Takes lots of patience to read all the way to the end.
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
PROTAGONIST: Bell Elkins, county prosecuting attorney
SETTING: Ackers Gap, WV
RATING: 4.25
WHY: Bell Elkins had a conflicted history in the small town of Acker's Gap, WV, but decided to return and put her demons behind her. She is the county prosecuting attorney and works closely with the local sheriff. She is called in when a pregnant 16-year-old girl is found underwater in a car. As they investigate, tragedy hits the town in the form of an explosion that kills 6 people. This was such a
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Bell, the main character. At times I am disgusted with her for her actions and how she treats people -- but she always works hard and follows through on her promises. She has a bad temper which shows sometimes in not very flattering ways. In other words, she is realistic! I love that about her. Great writer! I plan to read more of her books.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an intriguing mystery with wonderfully fully developed characters that I feel I would recognize if I bumped into them on the street.
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read by Julia Keller. I picked it up at a yard sale a couple of years ago and put it in my pile of books to read. Now that I've gotten introduced to her books, I'll be sure to read more! I really loved the setting and the characters. It is a great suspense!
Jo Ann
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kept me wondering - loved it!
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I've pretty much hit the motherlode of great mysteries in the last few reads. After A Great Reckoning by the wonderful Louise Penny, I just thoroughly enjoyed Julia Keller's second book featuring the very appealing heroine Bell Elkins. This one was terrific. Bell lives in a depressed area of West Virginia in a small mountain town that once thrived with working coal mines. Now times are really, really hard, and this book's vivid description of the ethos and struggle of a hardscrabble life here in ...more
Jan 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Where to begin? This was just a hot mess, and a real disappointment. I tired of reading the italicized inner dialogues Bell had with herself, but even more than that, poor editing made this one begin to run off the rails early on. To wit: a big point is made that Bell doesn't allow her lover, Clay, to ever spend the night with her because Acker's Gap is a small town and people talk.... and then a few chapters later, we open to the two of them having breakfast after spending the night together, w ...more
When I found out that Keller had made Bell Elkins into a recurring character in a series, I was thrilled! The writing is not exceptional, but it is solid. And I love a good mystery. This book, and the first in the series, are sort of like wearing pajamas and watching a Law & Order marathon. Comforting, compelling but not really challenging.

I enjoyed this book, until the twists and plot resolutions were revealed. They just weren't very good, to be honest. They felt haphazardly decided last mi
Jul 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally posted on

Whole Lotta Twisted Going-ons
Bell is as tough as the mountains that cradle the small town of Acker's Gap, where she serves as County Prosecutor. Hell, there sure is a lot of criminal activity in that place! You got a young girl murdered, some crazy guy shooting an elderly lady, and terrorist blowing up the oldest building in town. This is in addition to the ordinary business of sneaky love trysts, troubled families, and missing sisters. Folks trust their sharp-
Jun 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
didn't read the first book, but don't think it made too much of a difference. (Though I would like to know what happened to make her daughter move away.) Poor Appalachian town, coal, but not too much business left, except hard feelings everywhere. Pregnant teen is found murdered, in the river. She was the bright star of her generation, had tons of potential, who could have done this to her? Rich boyfriend, his wheelchair bound brother, their mother? Her best friend? Good twists to the plot.
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Julia was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. She graduated from Marshall University, then later earned a doctoral degree in English Literature at Ohio State University.

She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at Princeton and Ohio State Universities, and the University of Notre Dame. She is a guest essayist on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and has been a contri

Other books in the series

Bell Elkins (7 books)
  • A Killing in the Hills  (Bell Elkins, #1)
  • Summer of the Dead (Bell Elkins, #3)
  • Last Ragged Breath (Bell Elkins, #4)
  • Sorrow Road (Bell Elkins, #5)
  • Fast Falls the Night (Bell Elkins, #6)
  • Bone on Bone (Bell Elkins #7)