Beth Lewis’ incredible debut novel The Wolf Road was one of my favourite books of 2016, so when I first heard about her new novel, Bitter Sun, I immediately added it to my wish list. And from the opening pages of Bitter Sun, my interest was immediately piqued, as I became immersed in a story of a mysterious death and its impact on a small town.
Events take place in the town of Larson in the summer of 1971, a time when the town is left reeling from the effects of a heatwave which has ruined crops and left a community on edge. So when four children stumble across the body of a woman, life in Larson becomes increasingly tense, as speculation and rumour begin to circulate, threatening to tear the small farming community apart. And of course we also see the impact this has on the four youngsters who made the grim discovery, whilst on a usually carefree visit to their hidden clubhouse. John and his younger sister Jenny, along with friends Gloria and Rudy, find themselves at the centre of the tragedy and their curiosity leads them to try and solve the mystery of the murder. The story is told over three parts covering three years, in which we see how life changes for the characters one and two years on. Here we revisit Larson in the summer months, reflecting on the crime that shook the town, and the subsequent darkness that descended as the blistering heat cycles round once more.
One of the things I loved about The Wolf Road was Lewis’ style of writing, and the portrayal of the characters. And this was no different in Bitter Sun, a story in which I quickly became immersed, and invested in the development of its characters who were all fascinating with authentic voices and stories to tell. I was particularly gripped by the story of narrator John and his sister and mother, and the tense relationship they share which was exacerbated by the claustrophobia of their family home. The events that unfold made for some difficult and heartbreaking reading, and there was a sense of unease throughout as to what may lie on the next page, and I read on with trepidation. In addition, there was plenty to be wary of outside of John’s home, as the surrounding town continue to speculate, with violence and dark secrets threatening to come to the surface, as the reader is left to question who may know more than they are letting on. The story is rich in detail, and Lewis has succeeded in creating a vivid sense of place, and an atmospheric mystery.
Once again I really enjoyed Beth Lewis’ writing, and she is becoming one of my favourite authors. Bitter Sun is a compelling novel which captures a coming of age story with a dark backdrop, as we see the heat that settles on a small town, and the four friends who dig a little deeper…