In “Bone on Bone,” the latest novel in the series about Bell Elkins, author Julia Keller delves deeply into the psyche of the protagonist, Bell, to deliver a novel that is powerful and emotional. Even readers who have read the previous novels (which does help understand motivations and characters) will marvel at Belle’s strength of character and moral resolve to do the right thing.
The previous book ended with Bell’s sister revealing to her that although she, Shirley, had spent decades in prison for killing their father, it was actually Bell who committed the crime. Shirley was 16, six years older than Bell and she wanted Bell to have the chance for a full and successful life.
Bell did just that. She married a hometown boy who went to law school, and she eventually went to law school. But living the life of wealth in DC was not Bell’s style, and she left that to return to her roots in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. In this poor town where opioids reign, Bell was the prosecuting attorney for the county. But after her sister’s confession, Bell insists on being charged with the crime. She also, to the shock of everyone, insists on prison time.
In this novel, the reader learns the whys. Why Bell insisted on prison time. Why she confessed to the murder. But before that happens, the reader learns a lot about addiction, poverty, and what drug abuse can do to a family. The story includes the Topping family, a wealthy banker, his wife and their son — the son who is an addict and makes their life hell.
The plot is beautifully executed, and the characters are wonderfully drawn. But it’s the glimpse into a small town that will fascinate readers. The setting in Keller’s books, Acker’s Gap, becomes almost another character in the story. Reading about the inhabitants and their foibles are like getting a glimpse into someone’s house through a lit window at night.
With each of Keller’s books about Acker’s Gap and Bell Elkins, the reader learns more and more about the paradoxes of living in a small town. There are the close relationships, but there is also the feeling of isolation. Keller describes the mountains that block the sun and cast the town in shadows and the inhabitants who are desperate to leave. But most of all, readers will come to know and admire Bell.
Keller keeps the action moving while maintaining the real mystery of why Bell insisted on ruining her life, her law career, her position, when she didn’t have to. When the reveal happens — it’s powerful.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Minotaur, for review purposes.