Even though her life seems to be spiraling out of control, Bell Elkins still has to care for her family members and do her job as a West Virginia county prosecutor.
Bell’s sister, Shirley, has finally been released from prison after serving a long sentence for killing their father before he got around to molesting Bell. Unfortunately, Shirley, who’s living with Bell, has been overwhelmed by alcohol-fueled attacks of rage against Bell, who’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of her daughter, Carla, for the summer. Bell is furious when her ex-husband arranges for Carla to spend the summer as an intern in London and has trouble controlling her rage when a man who’s molesting his stepchildren is freed because none of them will testify. Bell’s hometown of Acker’s Gap is dirt-poor and beset by drug and alcohol use and high unemployment. When two people are brutally murdered, Bell and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong have little to go on. The big draw for the summer is the arrival of former governor Riley Jessup, a native son who’s donating an MRI machine to the new hospital. After growing up poor, he went into politics and made a fortune, but all his money can't save his beloved, sickly grandson. In the meantime, Lindy Crabtree can barely cope with the deterioration of her father, a former coal miner who’s slowly losing his mind. Lindy, who loves to read, works nights at a gas station. To soothe her unstable father, she’s fixed the cellar of their decrepit house to resemble a coal mine. While Lindy worries that her father may be the killer, Bell traces a telltale business card to a company owned by Jessup but is stonewalled by the politician.
In her powerfully written third appearance, Bell (Bitter River, 2013, etc.) emerges as a compelling heroine with an especially vexing mystery to solve.