Despite high hopes and a very promising start I’m afraid Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine failed to wow me. It’s still a very enjoyable read and Caine’s writing is as wonderful as always but I kind of wish the story had gone in a slightly different direction.
Spoiler Alert: as this is the fourth book in the Stillhouse Lake series there may be some very mild spoilers for the previous books from here on in. If you’re considering reading the series (and you should) you may be better checking out my review for the first book here.
She’s investigating a cold case no one else could—by going places no else would dare.
In spite of a harrowing past still haunting her, Gwen Proctor is trying to move forward. Until a new assignment gives her purpose: the cold-case disappearance of a young man in Tennessee. Three years missing, no clues. Just Ruth Landry, a tortured mother in limbo. Gwen understands what it’s like to worry about your children.
Gwen’s investigation unearths new suspects…and victims. As she follows each sinister lead, the implications of the mystery grow more disturbing. Because the closer Gwen gets, the closer she is to a threat that looms back home.
In a town that’s closed its ranks against Gwen; her partner, Sam; and her kids, there’s no bolder enemy than the Belldene family—paramilitary, criminal, powerful, and vengeful. As personal vendettas collide with Gwen’s investigation, she’s prepared to fight both battles. But is she prepared for the toll it could take on everyone she loves?
I love Rachel Caine’s writing and I love this series but while Bitter Falls, the fourth book in the series had a very promising start I have to confess I found my attention begin to wander partway through and I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied by the ending.
There is a lot to like about it and overall this is definitely an enjoyable read. The prologue at the start for example makes for some truly chilling reading and I loved the way it introduced the reader to the cult at the centre of the story. I was intrigued by the case Gwen is investigating of a missing young man and I was impressed by the way Gwen goes about getting the information she needs.
Gwen herself remains one of my favourite characters, she’s so resilient and so fiercely protective of her family. I love her determination and her fight but also how she keeps trying to do the best for her children. Her development over the series has been wonderful to watch. I also liked the new characters the author introduced in this story, the Belldene family, Gwen’s new boss and co workers and even relatively minor characters such as the parents of the missing boy. Each and every one felt believable and well rounded and there are a few I hope will pop up again in future books.
I do feel however like the story took a bit of a wrong turn and an opportunity was missed to take things into new territory and really develop the characters. Instead of allowing the characters to do their own thing, the whole family is pulled into the case Gwen’s investigating and it becomes a repeat of the previous books.
What makes it so frustrating is that there are some intriguing routes the story could have gone down. Yes, the cult side is fascinating but I wanted to see the family dealing with every day life now that they have decided to stop running and hiding. I mean they have some serious issues, Sam is carrying a lot of guilt and being targeted by the group he started up to get revenge on Gwen, Connor is understandably suffering from PTSD and Lanny is struggling to figure out where she fits. Add to that the local Hillbilly mafia (paramilitary, criminals & drug dealers) who are trying to run the family out of town and I feel like there was plenty of other material for the story to work with.
I did love the links with the previous books and how certain storylines carry across books, it would be unrealistic if they didn’t, but sometimes there do seem to be too many coincidences and there are only so many times the same things can keep happening to this family. I also felt like there wasn’t really much character development in this story. Sam in particular feels like he’s pushed to the background, he does have an important role in the story and there are a few chapters from his pov but I didn’t feel like there was any real development or that we got to know and understand him any better which is a pity as I find him the most intriguing.
It seemed too as if there were certain threads that were left hanging and the ending felt a little bit rushed to me with many things unresolved. I don’t expect all loose ends to be tied up when reading a series but it just kind of stopped.
Overall this is by no means a bad read and there is a lots to like about it. I’m just a little disappointed that the story fell back into the familiar rather than going in the new direction I hoped for. If you’ve read and enjoyed the other books in the series I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy this one too.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.