It’s always an interesting time when authors who write literary fiction decide to play in genre sandboxes (note: literary fiction is also a genre, and not one with more merit than any other, just so we’re clear on my position here). The Unseen World, the author’s previous book, is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last several years. I liked it so much that I put all of the author’s published work on my TBR (which I have of course since ignored).
I started seeing Long Bright River popping up all over the place a couple months before it was released, but nothing in particular caught my attention. In fact, the synopsis made it seem like a book I might want to actively avoid. It sounded dark and depressing, and I just don’t need that in my life. Then I realized who the author was, and I was like welllll, maybe?? But it still sounds depressing! The opioid epidemic, corruption in the justice system, murder (which is normally something I read about!), all of it just seemed too much. And then my book club picked it, and I was like, well shit.
To summarize the premise in brief, our main character is Mickey, a cop, and is pulled into the investigation of a series of murders in her town when her sister, Kacey, an addict who now makes a living as a sex worker, goes missing.
And it was very good! And yes, I was right, it was depressing, but in a way I could handle, as it turns out. It’s not quite the same of course because they have different voices and writing styles, but Moore’s version of crime fiction turns out to be very similar to Tana French’s (I’ve never yet seen someone successfully make a comparison to Tana French that I believed, so let’s see if I can pull this off). I will call this subgenre “literary crime.” Like French, Moore’s focus is equal parts on the mystery, and on the character arc of the narrator, who is a uniform in the Philadelphia PD (Mickey isn’t a detective, though, so we don’t get the lovely detailed investigation and long-form interviews that French always so thoughtfully provides). They are both also very socially conscious writers, and weave metaphors about the human experience in with their explorations of things like examining the effects of the 2008 crash (I just finished re-reading Broken Harbor last night so this is fresh on my mind) and as here, what the opioid epidemic has done to the main character’s city, and to her life personally.
One of the most powerful things Moore does in this book is begin it with a list of names of all the people in her life who have died because of opioids (mostly overdoses), and the list is not small. Mickey and Kacey’s parents both died of overdoses, and Kacey has been fighting addiction since she was a teenager. Mickey was an interesting window into this story, because in many ways she’s conflicted about her life, as someone who escaped and chose a career most everyone in her family wouldn’t approve of, she’s also drawn to and repulsed by her family, because of what they meant to her growing up. Both girls were raised by their grandmother, who was not affectionate, and who Mickey has a troubled relationship with now.
The book does start a little slow, and I didn’t get so that I didn’t want to put the book down until about halfway through, but when that hit, the book became unputdownable.
Very much recommended if you like crime fiction in general, Tana French, and/or The Unseen World in specific.