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Bitter Sun

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  252 ratings  ·  66 reviews
"Stand by Me" meets "True Detective" in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small mid-Western town and the four kids who uncover it. In the heatwave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder, but they dig too deep and ask too many questions. Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the u ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published June 1st 2018 by The Borough Press
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Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  252 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Beth Lewis writes a superb emotionally heartbreaking coming of age story depicting a ravaging picture of a small midwestern American town. Larson is struggling economically, plagued by its political intrigue and corruption, amidst the background of the Vietnam draft with the return of damaged soldiers, hard hit by ruined harvests as the unrelenting heat takes it toll, suffering from rising unemployment and suicide, beset by rumours and rampant paranoia as violence simmers. It provides the perfec ...more
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Second book of this author I read, after The Wolf Road. A grim story and dark coming of age story of four young kids discovering a dead woman in the lake surrounded by fields, close to their secret hiding place. They try to find the killer on their own, and at the same time we get an insight into their grim lives. John, one of the four kids, is the narrator and tells a sad and shocking story of his home and his drunk mother. Dark and sad. Well written although it takes focus to stay into the sto ...more
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No matter the genre of fiction, small town America always seems to be portrayed as desperately, determinedly normal on the surface, while actually steered by unseen currents in the form of grasping, morally vacant men bent on fulfilling their own desires at any cost. Here, the discovery of a body is the first wave in a tide that engulfs the whole town, yet when the water recedes, it only highlights the embedded filth rather than washing it clean. It has a punch like My Absolute Darling or The Su ...more
Liz Barnsley
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book has broken me so I can't review it now.

Nearer publication I will but I'll probably still be sobbing slightly. Best book I've read this year by a clear mile. Easily in contention for my no 1 spot in December and I'll actually be VERY surprised if anything beats it.

I'm going to lie down now and have another good cry. Beautiful writing. Heart wrenching stuff.

Highly Recommended.
Roman Clodia
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As long as the apple is shiny and red, it doesn't matter if it's rotten.

There's almost a sub-genre of books set in a claustrophobic small town where the surface quiet hides a seething mix of secrets and lies culminating in murder - this is one of the better ones. Lewis can write: her prose is unflashy but acute, and there's an undertow of emotion that is barely restrained both in John, the narrator, and the novel itself.

The four protagonists are adolescents 13-15 and in lots of ways this is as m
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbr, historical
There's a simmering heat haze which surrounds this book, set in the harsh dustbowl farming communities of mid Western USA during one long hot summer heatwave in the early 1970s as Vietnam is headline news and the already fragile rural economy crumbles.

Told from the aspect of 4 youngsters trying to solve a mystery, following their discovery of a womans body. This is no famous five story there's a definite Stephen King feel to the storyline which is dark and grim and hostile.

There's nothing light
Cathy Ryan
Set in Larson, a small town in middle of America’s corn belt, full of seemingly good people and where everything seems perfect on the surface. But secrets and lies abound and the underlying darkness is about to emerge. The story is character driven and told from the perspective of John (Johnny) Royal, a thirteen year old living with his mother and younger sister, Jenny, on a small farm a mile outside of town.

It was during the heat wave summer of 1971 that everything changed. Let out of schoo
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really enjoyable coming of age novel with this small town crime element spread over 3 summers. I did get a True Detective vibe like the blurb provides. Violent and eerily disturbing. Its a big change in story type from her first. I actually enjoyed the first alot more, this had such simpler style and plot. Her writing style and prose is still amazing. I'd reccomend her first novel over this but both are still must reads. ...more
Abby Slater- Fairbrother
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
‘I killed her’

Bitter Sun is a novel that begins in a heatwave of 1971 and ends in summer 1973. It takes place in the rural town of Larson and the Vietnam war and its impact on small rural communities sets the backdrop for the novel.

The novel follows brother and sister John and Jenny and their childhood friends Gloria and Rudy. They discover the body of a female murder victim, which the town is quick to hush up! Too quick for John and Jenny’s liking and they set out to unmask the killer. John n
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Small town mysteries are hugely appealing to me, and Larson is the perfect example of why. In this close-knit community, tensions are running high, the atmosphere is stifling, the unrest, this community could implode at any minute. And the heatwave added to the atmosphere, made it unbearable, put everyone on edge, and sooner or later somethings got to give….

More than the mystery, this novel was a coming-of-age for our main quartet. An exploration of familial relationships, the highs and the lows
A.J. Sefton
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
The gory prologue sets the scene as a blood-covered man is picked up on a desolate road. The book proper starts when a group of children find a body in the lake.

The first chapter is slow and full of the depressing background and lives of the children, who live in a rural part of America. Of course, it changes at the end of the chapter when they find the body of a young woman. Unable to get the discovery out of their minds they decide to find out who killed her.

This is a story of friendship, fami
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good coming of age story, too long drawn out and too repetitive for me, and i want the baddies to suffer!!
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was so impressed with Beth's debut 'The Wolf Road' that I couldn't wait to read her next book. And 'Bitter Sun' does not disappoint one iota. Another stark coming-of-age which pits 13 year old Johnny Royal and his friends into the wilderness of a small mid-Western town's politics and corruption from which no-one can emerge a winner.

Happily playing in their secluded cubby, The Roost, down by Big Lake, John and his sister Jenny and best friends, Gloria and Rudy, discover the body of a young gir
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Set over 3 long hot summer from 1971 in a small American town this book is so utterly addictive I could not put it down.
Told from young 13 yr old Johnny Royal's view as the sanctuary of his younger sister and two best friends' clubhouse becomes the area where a girls body is found by the children.
Like a car crash in slow motion you know something is bad in the town, each year sees the children's home life become worse. Indeed his sister Jenny is under the impression their mother will kill her
This was a goodreads giveaway. Really enjoyed this book. I did not realise Beth Lewis had written Wolf Road which has been on my to read list for some time. The atmosphere and characters were so well written. The feeling of helplessness and dread built like the storm clouds over the three summers. We were teased by the opening and knew something dreadful was going to happen but to who and when. The small town mentality and corruption felt all too real. The only slight criticism I had with the wr ...more
Pamela Scott
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing

(copy from publisher via NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed)

I had high hopes for this book after loving The Wolf Road and I was not disappointed. The book is quite grim at times, right from the start and the author does not hold back any emotional punches. This is a coming of age story but one that is steeped in darkness. I was shocked when the kids were treated with such hostility after they find the dead body and it’s even suggested one of them might be
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I saw 'Stand by Me meets True Detective' I had high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed.
Small town America is always portrayed in a certain way so it is easy to see the picture which the author paints. The awful secrets a town hides and how within a moment - your life is changed forever.

I don't give spoilers in any review I do, but if you like either Stand by me or True Detective then you must read this book. The author writes with ease. I'll definitely be checking other titles
Jan 03, 2019 rated it did not like it
quite the departure from 'The Wolf Road', and not in ways i care for much... to get the bad list done first off: pages and pages and pages of dialogue, which works well if you're writing a (good) screenplay, not so much in a book of this length; awful, trite, and stereotypical characters; total prick narrator; even more dialogue; utterly unbelievable scenarios abound; nonsensical solutions to scenarios; over-trying attempt at some sort of childhood/YA/teen 'gang of four'; unfitting conclusion; e ...more
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was eager to read this as it has been compared to The Dry by Jane Harper, which I enjoyed. I wasn't disappointed, this is a moving coming of age book that held my interest from the very start. My only criticism would be that it felt a little drawn out at times. I haven't heard many people talking about this book and I feel it deserves to be given more recognition. A worthy 4.5 stars, and I will be checking out the author's other book. ...more
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All of my reviews can be found at

I saw Bitter Sun mentioned on a number of blogs last year and my FOMO well and truly kicked in. I really can’t help myself when it comes to literary crime fiction at the moment and as soon as I clapped eyes on this book, I knew I had to read it. And oh my goodness, I’m so glad I did. Heartbreaking and emotive, this is a wonderfully consuming piece of fiction which I lost myself in.

A group of young teenage friends make a harrowing discover
Jacob Collins
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bitter Sun is the incredible new novel by Beth Lewis, and now I can see why it had so much praise when it was released a couple of years ago.

This is a haunting, heart-wrenching book with a cast of characters who will stay with you. And honestly, that ending, I finished this book at the weekend and I still think it’s going to take me a few more days to get over it.

It all starts with the body. On a hot summer’s day in 1971, four children happen across the body of a young woman abandoned by a lak
Jenny Cooper
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Bitter Sun is set in a small farming town in the mid-west of America in the early 1970s. At a time when the Vietnam war is in full swing and the unrelenting heat is threatening to ruin the harvest, a body is discovered by John, aged 13, his sister and two of their schoolfriends when they are playing near the lake. The woman has clearly been murdered and when the authorities fail to make any headway in solving the crime, the children start asking questions themselves. It soon transpires that ther ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you're wanting a novel which encapsulates the claustrophobia and paranoia of life in a small town then look no further than Bitter Sun. Beginning in the baking hot summer of 1971, Johnny, his sister Jenny and their two friends Gloria and Rudy chance across the body of a young woman. Unable to move past their gruesome discovery, they make a pledge to solve the murder and over the next few years their worlds get darker as more secrets are uncovered.

My advice would be to strap in before reading
May 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Small-town America in the 1970's is the setting for this novel. The four main characters are young teenagers: Johnny Royal who narrates the story, his younger sister Jenny, and their two friends rich, privileged Gloria and boy-from-bad-family Rudy. Johnny and Jenny's simgle-parent mother is an alocoholic, often violent, especially towards Jenny. Gloria never seems to see her parents and has been more or less raised by the family help, and as for Rudy, his father is a mean, foul-mouthed man, head ...more
Sarah Knight
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book fully immerses you in 1970 Midwest America. Set in the economically deprived town of Larson, it's a coming of age story. The blurb which attracted me to this book said it was a cross between The Dry and Stand By Me. That is wholly accurate. Brother and sister, John and Jenny Royal live on a run down farm with their drunken mother. Their father went off to war in 1968 and did not come back. John does his best to keep the farm running and play peacemaker between his Mum and sister. The s ...more
Water Moon
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
First things first, I believe the author was heavily inspired by the movie Stand By Me (based on Stephen King’s novella The Body.) Credit where credit’s due. I found there were too many similarities for this not to be the case. Turns of phrase in the book are right out the movie too: “screwed the pooch”; “lard-ass”. A character in Bitter Sun named Bung-Eye Buchanan also has a bad eye (in Stand By Me Christopher “Eyeball” Chambers has a bad eye too). I don’t think I’m clutching at straws ...more
Sam Whitehouse
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
A book doesn't have to be set in a magical land and have dragons to be an epic. Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis proves this. Set over several summers, it tells the story of Johnny and his friends who one day stumble upon a dead body and find their lives forever changed. It is the characters' journeys that make this book an epic. Each of them goes through so much change it's impossible not to get caught up in their lives. It's Stand by Me by way of an american mystery novel. Echoing Stephen King, Beth L ...more
Big Bertha
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bitter Sun is set in the small Midwest American town of Larson during the early 70's
Told in the first person by 13 year old John Royal its about a hard upbringing in a tough community; the unrelenting heat, the Vietnam draft and families struggling to make a living.

Its a descriptive novel the small-town community and the drought ridden countryside is well written and easily visualised.

John, his sister Jenny and friends Rudy and Gloria, like most kids had a hideaway, a den or clearing somewhere
Richard Murphy
Apr 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is about 4 kids in a mid western town who one hot (very hot) summer come across a body and decide it is for them to find out who killed the dead lady.

What follows is not so much a detective story, but more a coming of age based over 3 summers and what happens to all 4 of those kids and how their life changes because of that one summer.

The author writes so well and draws you into their lives. The hot weather, the steamy mid western feel of a small town, come across in the book as the s
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Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has travelled extensively and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and Great White sharks. She has been, at turns, a bank cashier, fire performer, juggler, and is currently a Commissioning Editor at a leading London publisher. Her debut novel, The Wolf Road, was shortlisted ...more

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