A worthy follow-up to Bell’s debut (A Killing in the Hills, 2012): a literate, gritty, character-driven tale with another...

BITTER RIVER

A tough prosecutor in a small West Virginia town battles criminals and inner demons.

Bell Elkins grew up poor in Acker’s Gap, made a success of her life against all odds, married a local boy, made good and moved on to a high-paying job in Washington before giving it all up and returning to her mountain town. Now, her teen daughter is living with her father in D.C. after her involvement with one of Bell’s cases almost proved the death of her. Bell, who loves her job and her beautiful, dirt-poor hometown, is waiting hopefully for her sister, who killed their father in order to protect Bell, to come back home after her release from prison. While she waits, she and her friend Sheriff Nick Fogelsong have a tough case to solve: the murder of a promising high school student, Lucinda Trimble, who refused to give up her unborn baby. Lucinda’s mother is a flower child who ekes out a living selling folk art to tourists, her father a high school bad boy, always in trouble, who still cares for the daughter he deserted years ago. The high school sweetheart Lucinda was set to marry becomes a suspect, along with the members of his disapproving family. Meanwhile, Bell’s latest romantic interest loses a leg when the town’s popular restaurant is blown to smithereens (accident? bomb?), killing several of her friends. And she must cope with an old friend, a former CIA interrogator, who needs to spend some time in a peaceful setting but may be bringing his dangerous past with him.

A worthy follow-up to Bell’s debut (A Killing in the Hills, 2012): a literate, gritty, character-driven tale with another surprise ending.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-00349-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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An overly anodyne attempt at Southern gothic.

THE STOLEN MARRIAGE

A series of unfortunate errors consigns a Baltimore nurse to a loveless marriage in the South.

It’s 1943, and Tess, from Baltimore’s Little Italy, is eagerly anticipating her upcoming nuptials. Her frustration grows, though, when her physician fiance, Vincent, accepts an extended out-of-town assignment to treat polio patients. On an impromptu excursion to Washington, D.C., Tess has too many martinis, resulting in a one-night stand with a chance acquaintance, a furniture manufacturer from North Carolina named Henry. Back in Baltimore, Tess’ extreme Catholic guilt over her indiscretion is compounded by the discovery that she’s pregnant. Eschewing a back-street abortion, she seeks out Henry in hopes of arranging child support—but to her shock, he proposes marriage instead. Once married to Henry and ensconced in his family mansion in Hickory, North Carolina, Tess gets a frosty reception from Henry’s mother, Miss Ruth, and his sister, Lucy, not to mention the other ladies of Hickory, especially Violet, who thought she was Henry’s fiancee. Tess’ isolation worsens after Lucy dies in a freak car accident, and Tess, the driver, is blamed. Her only friends are the African-American servants of the household and an African-American medium who helps her make peace with a growing number of unquiet spirits, including her mother, who expired of shock over Tess’ predicament, and Lucy, not to mention the baby, who did not make it to full term. The marriage is passionless but benign. Although Henry tries to be domineering, he always relents, letting Tess take the nurses' licensing exam and, later, go to work in Hickory’s historic polio hospital. Strangely, despite the pregnancy’s end, he refuses to divorce Tess. There are hints throughout that Henry has secrets; Lucy herself intimates as much shortly before her death. Once the polio hospital story takes over, the accident is largely forgotten, leading readers to suspect that Lucy’s death was a convenient way of postponing crucial revelations about Henry. Things develop predictably until, suddenly and belatedly, the plot heats up in an unpredictable but also unconvincing way.

An overly anodyne attempt at Southern gothic.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08727-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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An anodyne visit with Tricia and her friends and enemies hung on a thin mystery.

A KILLER EDITION

Too much free time leads a New Hampshire bookseller into yet another case of murder.

Now that Tricia Miles has Pixie Poe and Mr. Everett practically running her bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue, she finds herself at loose ends. Her wealthy sister, Angelica, who in the guise of Nigela Ricita has invested heavily in making Stoneham a bookish tourist attraction, is entering the amateur competition for the Great Booktown Bake-Off. So Tricia, who’s recently taken up baking as a hobby, decides to join her and spends a lot of time looking for the perfect cupcake recipe. A visit to another bookstore leaves Tricia witnessing a nasty argument between owner Joyce Widman and next-door neighbor Vera Olson over the trimming of tree branches that hang over Joyce’s yard—also overheard by new town police officer Cindy Pearson. After Tricia accepts Joyce’s offer of some produce from her garden, they find Vera skewered by a pitchfork, and when Police Chief Grant Baker arrives, Joyce is his obvious suspect. Ever since Tricia moved to Stoneham, the homicide rate has skyrocketed (Poisoned Pages, 2018, etc.), and her history with Baker is fraught. She’s also become suspicious about the activities at Pets-A-Plenty, the animal shelter where Vera was a dedicated volunteer. Tricia’s offered her expertise to the board, but president Toby Kingston has been less than welcoming. With nothing but baking on her calendar, Tricia has plenty of time to investigate both the murder and her vague suspicions about the shelter. Plenty of small-town friendships and rivalries emerge in her quest for the truth.

An anodyne visit with Tricia and her friends and enemies hung on a thin mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0272-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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