I’m a fan of President Obama, so when he recommends books to read, I am quick to jump on the bandwagon. His recommendations so far have been well written and thought provoking, and Long Bright River (2020) by Liz Moore is no exception.
Mickey is a Philadelphia police officer working the streets in the Kensington neighborhood. The area has seen better days, but now its factories are closed and it is overrun with opioid addiction. Mickey is intimately familiar with the opioid crisis as it has killed both her parents. In addition, her sister, Kasey, is living on the streets, prostituting herself in the never ending search of another hit.
The book begins with Mickey paired with a new partner. They are called to a dead body, which is not uncommon in these days of overdoses. The deceased is a young woman, her body out in the rain. At first glance, it appears like another overdose, but a closer look shows signs of strangulation. Shortly thereafter a couple of other bodies are found, and it appears they have a serial killer on the loose. To make things even more ominous, Kacey has been missing for a couple of months. Although they haven’t spoken for years, Mickey has always kept an eye out for her. Every day at work, Mickey is half expecting to come across her sister’s body.
Long Bright River alternates between present day and the childhood of Mickey and Kasey. The kids are raised by their stern, broken grandmother after their mother dies. Mickey is a smart, sensitive kid who was lucky enough to remember her mother before she died. One of the more powerful scenes for me was when her school class is taken into the city to see The Nutcracker ballet. Mickey is transfixed and so wants to belong there, but the little girls attending the show with their mothers in pretty, pastel dresses with their hair pulled back in a bun live in a different world. It was a heartbreaking scene. We also see how Kasey quickly declines into addiction and the affect it had on her sister and grandmother.
In Mickey’s past, we see the profound effect mentors can have on struggling kids. A high school history teacher and a policeman in an after school program drastically affect Mickey’s childhood and future.
I thought this book was very well written. On one level it is a disturbing murder mystery; I was worried about Mickey’s safety as well as some of her actions throughout the book. But there is a lot more to it. There is the relationship between Mickey and Kasey, Mickey trying to survive as a single mother and a full-time job, Mickey’s isolation from the rest of her family, and Mickey’s own coming-of-age story. This is also a story about the Philadelphia Police Department, and how they overlook victims when it is convenient. Mickey struggles in a department where many fellow officers do not care about the neighborhood they patrol. She also clashes with her immediate supervisor, and the book does a good job of showing how difficult it can be when your boss does not support you.
This book was dark and often difficult to read. Although there are some minor resolutions throughout the novel, there could be no tidy, happy ending. Some people may be in a better place and hopefully they will stay that way, but the cycle of addiction and all the pain it causes continues unabated. Recommended.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.