Book review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Long Bright River - Liz Moore
In some ways Long Bright River is a fairly standard police procedural in a case with the usual twists and turns, but there's also clearly a social aspect to the novel that underpins it and gives it a little more presence, weight and meaning. Essentially though what elevates the book far above anything standard in this genre is the personal family drama that brings it vividly to life in a way and imbues it with real heart.
As far as the police procedural goes Michaela 'Mickey' Fitzpatrick, an officer for the Philadelphia Police Department, has all the expected problems that come with working in a difficult area of town and the familiar issues with colleagues and superior officers. The rundown Kensington district is rife with drugs, prostitution and populated by a lot of unsavoury characters. And now, having just been dispatched to investigate the report of the body of a young woman found murdered and dumped, she is worried that they might have a serial killer on their hands.
Mickey however has more reason to worry about that than most. She has a personal interest in what happens in Kensington because her sister Kacey makes a living on the streets of the district. Both sisters had difficult childhoods, but where Mickey's reaction to it was to become a police officer, Kacey took another direction for the worse, getting involved with drugs, with dubious characters and she's been seen and been arrested for picking up clients on the streets.
Although the two sisters aren't on speaking terms and have dropped out of each other's lives, Mickey wouldn't mind if Kacey was arrested again, because then she would at least know that she is safe. As it is, Kacey hasn't been seen or heard of for a few months. With a killer now apparently operating on the streets of Kensington, Mickey is living in constant fear of Kacey being reported as his next victim. In order to find out what has happened to her, she's going to have to ask questions in some dangerous places and deal with some difficult characters, including her own extended family.
Long Bright River is much more than a police procedural then, and it's more than just personal family involvement that gives the thriller an extra bit of edge. Liz Moore's writing has a way of delving deeply into the backgrounds of these characters, making them real, considering the options open to them and the reasons and consequences of the choices they make. It's not just Kacey who has been shaped by a dysfunctional family background and upbringing, but it also colours how Mickey sees the world and how she reacts to situations, particularly sensitive towards her own son Thomas and generally protective of children in similar difficult circumstances.
The novel works tremendously well on a number of levels. The police detective work is fairly standard in its twists and turns but Liz Moore provides a strong background and grounding in the social issues involved and, crucially, the impact it can have on a community, families and individuals. It's this aspect that makes it feel like there is something real and important at stake, giving the writing a sense of authenticity, conviction and genuine emotional engagement. In the end the crime thriller and the personal drama come together as you would expect, blending perfectly into a whole, complete and satisfying thriller.