Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

Mickey has not talked to her sister Kacey in almost five years, but that does not stop Mickey from checking in on her sister. The two were once so close they would stay up all night whispering, telling secrets, dreaming of the future. Their differing personalities eventually led to different lifestyles: Kacey, the wild child, falling into a life of drugs and prostitution; Mickey, the more introverted of the two, choosing the solitary life of a police officer. Mickey’s role as beat cop in Kacey’s working territory allows her to keep an eye on her sister. Mickey does not approve of Kacey’s life style, but at least she knows Kacey is still alive… most days.

But just when the bodies of young women in Mickey’s district begin stacking up, she loses track of Kacey. Mickey has always been afraid her sister would fall victim to the street life, and now she cannot rest until she finds out what happened to Kacey.

Long Bright River is one story told in two alternating timelines: one from the girls’ past and one from their present. The biggest question is, after all that has happened, will there be one happy ending?

Review

Long Bright River is a mystery/thriller with a lot of family drama thrown in. The dark and twisty story is told in such a way as to invoke a lot of emotion from the reader. This book grabs the reader from the opening scene and does not let go until the end.

This was a character-driven story as much as anything, with a cast that fits the bill. Mickey could not have been a better protagonist. She is not your typical burned-out cop. While she has experienced murder, abuse, violence, drug overdoes, etc, her main source of anxiety is her sister’s life on the street. Mickey watches as Kacey leans into cars, hoping to get picked up, turning tricks to support her drug habit. She gets to know her friends and acquaintances, and sometimes follows her. All of this to keep her sister safe. Mickey’s job is suffering, as she is less productive because almost all of her policing is centered around staying within a close proximity to Kacey.

The story alternates between two timelines: when the girls were younger and did everything together, and present-day when they live completely different lives, two sides of the same coin. I love this aspect of the story because of the layer of complexity the past adds to the present. It goes from a story solely about Kacey’s disappearance to one of Mickey trying to fill the hole in her life that the extraction of her sister has created. This in itself is fascinating, because the two sisters had been filling that missing piece for each other since their mother died; thus, their growing apart reopened that wound for each of them, and both have been trying to find a way to become whole again.

There is a whole other cast of characters, of course. Mickey’s old surly partner compliments her well; the girls’ grandmother, Gee, plays the role of parental (or not) figure in their lives; Mickey’s captain who dislikes her; Simon (the father of Mickey’s son) who is also a cop; plus other drug dealers, people from the neighborhood, and police officers. While their roles are varying degrees of major and minor, they all felt to me like figures on the Mickey-Kacey carousel: everyone has their place – and the story is not complete without them – but it is the two sisters’ story that takes center stage. Everyone and everything else revolves around them, going faster and faster until finally it threatens to come apart at the seams.

One of my favorite parts of the book is how the author handles Mickey in different social situations. There are several scenes where she is interacting with people who have more money or live a different lifestyle, and the reader can feel the anxiety and self-consciousness come through. She often feels judged (and judges back), and is not sure how to react. There is a scene where the girls attend a play when they are in school, and the author’s description (through Mickey’s eyes) of how they felt being there, and why they behave the way they do is a good portrayal of cultural differences. Mickey experiences many situations like this in her adult life, as well, and those same feelings of unease are described. As a reader, I felt enveloped by those situations along with Mickey, and I came out feeling uncomfortable and tense. This is a difficult emotion to invoke on page, as I have rarely seen it done well, and is a compliment to the author’s writing.

I liked the ending, too, as there are several twists to the story – both the expected and unanticipated. Despite that fact, the author is able to pull almost everything together in a nicely-wrapped package. There was one piece of the story that was not addressed in the ending, though, and to me it was a critical issue that needed finality. It almost felt as though it was completely forgotten by the time everything else wrapped up. That was a little disappointing to me in what was otherwise a fantastic story.

Long Bright River is a really good book. It kept me on edge literally from the first page to the last. I highly recommend for fans of mysteries and thrillers.

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