This thriller (496 pages) was published in January of 2020 by Riverhead Books. The book takes you to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Melissa read Long Bright River and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
You could describe this remarkable novel as a crime story, but that would discount how it weaves a rich story of sibling love and rivalry into the structure of the police procedural. Set in modern Philadelphia, this is an up-close examination of the damage and salvation of family.
Most of the action takes place in Kensington. Once a working-class neighborhood centered around family, it’s been mostly abandoned to squatters in empty rowhouses, chasing their addiction to heroin.
And that’s where we meet two women, bonded by blood and separated by circumstance. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a 30-something patrol officer in the Philadelphia Police Department; her younger sister Kacey is a sex worker who supports her heroin habit by turning tricks. They haven’t spoken in far too long, but then a string of murders occur in Mickey’s beat, and Kacey is nowhere to be found. Mickey worries that the next body she discovers will be her sister. So she vows to find Mickey and figure out who’s killing these women.
It’s a standard find-the-bad-guy quest, except it’s not. Because Mickey and Kacey have a long history of blurred lines of responsibility, guilt, loyalty, and envy. The story is slowly revealed through Mickey’s narration, and her flashbacks show us the paths both women took to arrive where they are now.
Author Liz Moore was inspired to write the novel after a writing assignment that took her to Kensington. She perfectly recreates the atmosphere of a large, Irish Catholic family in urban Philadelphia with all the cliques, long-held grudges, and secrets that circulate within families. The love is probably there, but even the best-intentioned people are tragically bad at expressing it.
This is a deep dive into issues of trust and loyalty, and it highlights how the determination to change your life might mean leaving others behind. It’s also a timely look at how painful it is to work hard and still be poor and how harshly the world judges people without resources.
So it’s a crime story, yes, with plenty of suspense. If you enjoy police procedurals, this hits all the right marks. But the story of Mickey and Kacey provides more, and while it will break your heart, it will not leave you hopeless.
Some people do have trouble with Kensington, but to me, the neighborhood itself has become like a relative, slightly problematic but dear in the old-fashioned way that that word is sometimes used, treasured, valuable to me. — Liz Moore
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