Monday, September 14, 2020

read: Long Bright River (4 stars)

Long Bright RiverLong Bright River by Liz Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up at the beginning of 2020 because it was a best-seller and getting truckloads of good reviews. I figured I should be in-the-know on at least one 'hot' book this year. Then I started reading and wondering what all the fuss was about.

The writing was pretty good--easy to follow and all, even with the author's offbeat way of writing dialog. But it didn't click for me. What started out as a police procedural was suddenly some sort of family drama. And the gritty setting on the streets of Philadelphia was more offputting than I could deal with at the moment. I set it aside for something more appealing.

When I picked it back up, I found it was still the same story. But I somehow found it more engrossing. It's not really a police procedural, even though the protagonist, Michaela ("Mickey"), is a cop. She's not a very good one. She doesn't fit in well with the rest of the department and her street presence is awkward at best. Plus, she's not really trying to solve a crime. She's trying to find her drug-addict sister, Kacey, on those gritty, crime-ridden streets, mostly to make sure she isn't a victim of the same killer.

It's also not quite a family drama, because Mickey is completely estranged from her dysfunctional family and spends little time with them. We gradually discover more about that as we flash back and forth between "Then" and "Now". Most of Mickey's relationships are with strangers and neighbors and her ex-partner. These are also awkward because Mickey's childhood issues and current agendas create barriers for actually relating.

All of this makes it sound like the story is a failure. But it's not. Once I got back into it, I was fascinated by the way the author deftly intertwined the different aspects of Mickey's life into something that worked. During the last chapters, I could almost hear the mechanisms click into place as mysteries were solved, tragedies explained and relationships healed. Some come very close to being cloying, family-drama tropes. But there is enough depth to the background to avoid that cliff.

A thriller reader will have to invest a little extra energy to hang with the slower pace. It's worth it.

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