Long Bright River by Liz Moore (Penguin)

long bright river

“There is a body on the Gurney Street tracks.”

THE come-on cover copy and graphics suggest this is another crimo-detecto: Move over Michael Connelly. Step aside James Lee Burke. There is a new girl in town. A new town in Kensington, Philadelphia stricken with opiates. Enter officer Mickey Fitzpatrick. If Kensington has issues so does Mickey, with child care, with her sergeant, with her family, the O’Briens who are scattered across both sides of the tracks. And Liz Moore could certainly write this into a series.

But all that is slightly misleading because Moore is working on different levels at the same time. Before we get to what is a fastly accelerating, exciting crime drama in the later stages this is the story of the dysfunctional O’Briens who mirror the city itself who mirror Fitzpatrick’s struggle to better herself.

The obscure title is not explained until page 437. More fitting might have been, say, Good Sister, Bad Sister or just plain Kensington. The police procedural does not fit so well with the personal, which is, sort of, the point. Other elements take control: the sense of place, the institution of the police, the destitution of the inhabitants, the family disputes.

Narrative is chatty and first person:

“Some people have trouble with Kensington, but to me the neighbourhood itself has become like a relative…”

and

“Ahearn is a small slight man…At five-eight, I look down on him by at least two inches. The difference sometimes send him up on his toes, hovering there while he talks”.

Sentences are short, spare and crisp, picking up a certain cadence and rhythm:

“For a week I work solo. I’m relieved to be alone again. I am relieved to

be able to

stop when and where I chose to,

to select which calls I respond to…”

At heart it is a me and my sister, as in filial, as in their relationship, as in different paths we chose, as in their dark back story which is a little Toni Morrison and not so brighter present…

Moore took 10 years in the writing and volunteered in the city’s crisis departments in that time. That passion and conviction set this out as more than just a detective story. It is a novel full of pace, nuance, surprises, emotions, guilt and dependencies. And well drawn people with feelings among whom I especially liked the bit part for Mrs Mahon, an outrider who is not part of the O’Brien clan, a safe refuge when everyone else is not so stable.

About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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