Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River”
by Marcia Allen, Collections Services Manager
I just finished a wonderful new book that straddles a couple different genres. Liz Moore’s “Long Bright River” is one captivating piece of fiction that manages to be both a riveting mystery and an intimate portrayal of damaged family dynamics. Let me explain what makes this an outstanding read.
Mickey is a deeply troubled police officer. Why the difficulties? Her younger sister, Kacey, is a drug addict with a long criminal record. Alternating chapters in the book are flashbacks to a childhood of neglect the two shared. The mother of the girls died of a drug overdose, the father abandoned them to the girls’ grandmother when he could no longer tolerate the older woman’s hostility, and the grandmother is bitter and cold toward the girls, a woman who doesn’t want the children. A school trip to a ballet when the girls were small is particularly poignant in its depiction of neglect. As a result, both girls flee home early: Mickey to a career in law enforcement, and Kacey to a world of crime and drugs that worsens over time. Mickey lives each day in fear that Kacey will overdose as she has done a few times in the past.
And that’s where Mickey’s concern only deepens. The section of Philadelphia where the siblings grew up is riddled with opioid-related crimes and deaths. While Mickey is hardened to drug-related deaths, she’s now become aware that a predator is killing young women who use drugs and who are involved in prostitution, exactly like Kacey. Several recent deaths have similar patterns of brutality.
What does this mean to Mickey? She anticipates that soon she will find that Kacey has suffered the same fate as the other victims. Since she hasn’t seen Kacey for some time and since another prostitute has said that Kacey is missing, she begins an investigation on her own, trying to locate her sister before another murder takes place. Working solo as she does, she begins taking desperate measures in searching for her sister.
While the murders and the absence of Mickey’s sister are focal points for this tale, the character-building of this complicated story is equally compelling. Mickey suspects her old partner might know more about the predatory killings, but when she attempts to shadow him, she learns about his compassion for those who live on the streets of Philadelphia. When Mickey confronts her grandmother about hurt feelings of the past, she realizes the older woman had her own heartbreaks. When Mickey temporarily leaves her young son with her landlord, Mrs. Mahon, she learns about the woman’s amazing past. And we learn, as does Mickey, that Kacey is much more than just another drug addict on the streets.
What else is so appealing in this story? The revelations that Mickey confides in the book’s flashbacks. We know, for example, the difficulties that Mickey has finding safe care for her son, yet we don’t know that full story until late in the book. We know that the father of the girls abandoned them to the grandmother, yet we don’t know about a cache of letters and cards long concealed until the latter part of the story. We realize that Mickey deeply loves her struggling sister, yet we don’t know the depth of Kacey’s suffering until we reach the conclusion.
This fine tale is gritty and ridden with betrayals and hard feelings, but it is also uplifting. We discover with Mickey that there are those for whom love is always present. Don’t miss this affecting tale of complex family relationships.