This book by Lorrie Moore offers exactly what I want in a crime novel. It’s thoughtful about crime and policing, it offers complicated characters, it’s well-paced and suspenseful, it takes some pleasing twists and turns, and it is generally a pleasure to read.
Long Bright River is set in Philadelphia, where main character and narrator Mickey is a single mom and a cop. She’s distant from her family, especially her little sister Kacey, in part, it seems, because she worries about their influence on her son, Thomas. But when Mickey realizes she hasn’t seen Kacey on the streets in a while, she worries if her addictions have finally caught up with her. Adding to her worry is the fact that sex workers in the neighborhood where Kacey works are being killed, and the police.
Further complicating matters is Mickey’s relationship with the rest of her department. Since her partner went on leave after an injury, she doesn’t have any real friends. She’s assigned a new partner, but she asks to be allowed to work on her own when she hears how he talks about the sex workers and addicts they deal with. And she’s frustrated at the lack of concern about the women being killed and hesitant to bring up her sister to the department.
Alternating with this present-day storyline are chapters detailing Mickey’s past and what caused her rift with Kacey. Through this storyline, we see that it is not so simple as one “good” sister and one “bad” one. And Mickey’s own actions have made it difficult for her to help her sister.
One of the things I liked about this book is how nonjudgmental it is toward its central characters. They make mistakes, some of them very serious, but their mistakes are comprehensible. Any judgment that exists in the novel is directed toward those who have power to really do something to help but don’t, choosing instead to look the other way or act in ways that make life worse for those who are already suffering.
As for the mystery at the center of the novel, it’s not really the point of the book. Yet I enjoyed how it played out. I wasn’t shocked by the resolution, but the book kept me wondering almost until the final reveal. So it satisfies on that front, too.