On The Streets of Philadelphia
Long Bright River
By: Liz Moore
If you know me, you know I am a person who reads about three suspense/thrillers a year. That’s about all my heart can take. One reason is that I find myself up at 1 am trying to finish a chapter or the whole book even though I am exhausted and then can’t sleep because my heart is beating so fast. I guess this reaction is what defines a thriller but it is not always my cup of tea. For some reason, this thriller spoke to me from the shelf of my library (before it closed last week) and I was immediately captivated by its story.
Long Bright River is the story of two sisters who grew up in the Fishtown section of North East Philadelphia in the '90s. They were raised by their cold-hearted grandmother who defined the term “tough-love.” Their mother had died when they were young of a drug overdose and their father had skipped town.
This is the story of Michaela and Kacey. The sisters grew up as thick as thieves, sharing a bed, sharing sisterhood bonds, and protecting each other from the harsh realities of their world. Yet in their late teens, their worlds separated completely.
Michaela, or Mickey as she is called, is a 33-year old cop on the Philadelphia police force assigned to quite possibly the worst neighborhood in Philadelphia at that time, Kensington. A neighborhood ravaged by the opioid crisis and the realities that go along with it; poverty, crime, violence, and prostitution. A world that you and I would rather not think about.
Mickey grew up being a pleaser, which is not surprising since she grew up in a home with a very critical grandmother and an unhappy childhood. Unlike Kacey who was a toddler when her mother died, Mickey remembers her mother has memories of the love and tenderness that their mother had for them before she became an addict. Mickey is an excellent student, always obedient, and always the caregiver. She is her little sister’s keeper. She watches out for her, unconditionally loves her, and shields her from their grandmother’s tough love. Mickey is also a single mom to Thomas, a five-year-old boy. She is determined to be a loving mother to him and to give him the childhood she never had.
Mickey’s sister Kacey is the complete opposite. She is reckless and careless. Kacey doesn’t finish high school and after being thrown out of the house several times, she finally ends up drug-addicted and on the streets. Mickey often witnesses Kacey in her drug-addled stupors selling herself to men as she does her rounds in Kensington. The sisters no longer speak and we don’t know why until much later in the book. We have to wonder if Mickey became a cop so that she can keep an eye on her sister.
“Every sighting of Kacey means one more day Mickey doesn’t have to worry about her sister turning up among the dead. In the opioid-ravaged Kensington section of Philly.”
Mickey has quite literally given up on saving Kacey who has escaped death so many times.
The story goes back and forth from the past to the present time, helping the reader understand why the sisters end up doing what they do and how their childhood leads them to their current lives. The story begins with a murder in Kensington. Every time the body of a woman is found, Mickey lives in fear that it will be Kacey. Lately, there has been a string of unsolved murders and Mickey is nervous that one day soon one of the bodies will be Kacey. One day Kacey goes missing and try as she may, Mickey can’t find her. Mickey puts herself in danger's way and starts to conduct her own investigation into her sister’s disappearance.
I can only describe this book as a gripping and uncomfortable read. As you know from previous blogs, I usually read to escape to better places and this book does not define my usual parameters. I have a hard time reading about the opioid crisis. It terrifies me to think of the world we live in now where opioids permeate every community and neighborhood. They exist in my neighborhood and most certainly yours. But this book goes beyond the raw struggle of addiction and poverty. This is a beautifully written story that defines the bonds of sisterhood, and what a woman will do to protect her sister from harm. A story of characters who are flawed and broken and yet find a way to put the pieces back together and change their destinies. This is a story about a city that I came to love during the four years I spent at Villanova University and the author’s strong love for her city comes through in her writing. Most importantly, this is a story of forgiveness and what it takes to let go of the mistakes that define you and rise up to live another day with absolution in your heart.
Long Bright River
By: Liz Moore
Publication Date: January 7, 2020