Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore
I've been at my parents' house for a week, so I'm catching up on all the BOTMs that have been piling up! And my first one is Long Bright River, a thriller by Liz Moore.
I've heard this one super hyped across Twitter and some podcasts I listen to, so I went into it with some pretty high expectations that, unfortunately, were not entirely met. This was still quite a good book - I enjoyed it, and at moments was so entirely gripped by the story that my mother had to wave her hand in front of my face to get my attention. But there was just something missing in this book, and I think it was the way the stories ended up overlapping.
The main action of the story takes place in Philadelphia at the height of the opioid crisis, and centers around Michaela Fitzpatrick, a uniform officer in the PPD. She's the main narrator of the novel and the plot is about her quest to find her sister, a heroin addict who's gone missing, and to find the killer who's targeting sex workers in her district. Both stories are supposed to fall in together and complement each other, but ultimately, the main story ends up being the relationship between Mickey and Kacey and the murder mystery takes a backseat (and I mean, an absolute backseat). Literally, Liz Moore just tacks on the murder mystery in the last fifteen pages as if she'd completely forgotten that that was a significant part of her selling point for this novel's plot - we're just handed the murderer at the end, with no investigation, no building up of clues, not a single chance to unravel the mystery on our own. The only thing we were given a chance to work out for ourselves was what happened to Mickey's sister Kacey, and even that was handed to us in such a piecemeal fashion that when the resolution was pointed out to us, it was both completely unexpected and anticlimactic.
But, there were still parts of the story I found highly enjoyable - the climax, where Mickey apprehends the murderer, had me on the edge of my seat because of how expertly Moore was doling out the adrenaline hits and the reveals. The scenes where Mickey is one-on-one with the non-police officers in her life, especially the scenes involving her son, were heartwarming and occasionally difficult, in ways that felt believable. I also think the way Liz Moore treated addiction - the way it impacts the lives of everyone, not just those who are addicted - was also brilliantly done. She handled the difficulties with compassion and sympathy, but never gave short shrift to the anger and the betrayal that the people around those suffering from addiction must feel. I also think the way she built up the flashbacks, going back and forth between the present-day and the scenes from Kacey and Mickey's past lives, served to paint a successful portrait of the complicated, dependent, and ultimately loving relationship these sisters have.
The writing, also, is wonderful. Moore gave her main narrator a clear, easily recognizable, precise voice - what did get slightly annoying is the way Mickey constantly presents herself, but that did lean into the way she presents herself to the rest of the characters, so I suppose I am willing to forgive her for that. And the familial and class dynamics that she explores are the most compelling part of the story - the entire section about how Mickey ends up taking custody of her son, and the way she splits from her much-older, obviously predatory boyfriend, and how she makes friends with people that she feels socially distanced from - was fascinating, gripping, and, in moments, heart-wrenchingly sad. It's disappointing that that wasn't the main thrust of the story, because if I hadn't been expecting a thriller and had gotten the familial dynamics, I would have found the book fantastic.
Let me know if you've read Long Bright River and what your thoughts are if you have!