Book review and synopsis for Long Bright River by Liz Moore, an intimate family drama about substance abuse wrapped up in a mystery-thriller package.
In Long Bright River, Michaela "Mickey" Fitzpatrick is a police officer in Kensington area of Philadelphia, a lower-income neighborhood that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. When a string of dead bodies are discovered, they soon identify that each involves the same M.O., a prostitute who is killed by strangulation.
The murders prompt Michaela to try to track down her estranged younger sister, Kacey, who is a sex worker and addict, only to discover that Kacey has gone missing for some time. As Michaela searches for her sister and the culprit, she's forced to come to terms with her childhood and the past that lead the two of them down divergent roads.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of Long Bright RiverQuick Plot Summary
Mickey is a cop with a 4-year-old son, Thomas, in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, a low-income area struggling with the opioid crisis. She moved here to get away from Thomas's father, Simon. Mickey's estranged sister, Kacey, is an addict and a sex worker. When a series of strangulation murders of prostitutes begins to take place, Kacey has been missing for a while. Mickey begins to look for Kacey and recruits her former partner Truman, who is out on medical leave, to help. Her current partner is Eddie Lafferty. Meanwhile, Mickey's landlord, Mrs. Mahon mentions that a man has come by looking for her.
Mickey and Kacey were raised by their grandmother, Gee, because their parents are deceased (their mother died of an overdose and father left and later died). They were sent to an after school program run by the local police where Mickey was mentored by Simon Cleare, where he eventually seduced her. Meanwhile, Kacey began a slow descent into drug usage, dropped out of school and eventually got into sex work. We later learn that Simon found out about Kacey's sex work and impregnated her. So, Thomas is actually Simon and Kacey's child, though Mickey has full custody over him.
Mickey uses police resources to investigate Kacey's disappearance and tracks down a pimp and drug dealer named Connor "Dock" McClatchie she suspects is involved. At the same time, Mickey and Truman get a tip from a friend of Kacey's, Paula Mulroney, that a potential suspect in the strangulation murders may be a crooked cop who demands sex from prostitutes by threatening to arrest them. Truman suspects it's Simon. After Mickey pushes her supervisor, Sergeant Ahern, to look into the crooked cop, Mickey suddenly learns that she's now under investigation by internal affairs for mis-using police resources on looking into her sister. Mickey is suspended from the force. Soon, homicide arrests a man, Robert Mulvey Jr., they think is responsible for the murders.
Months pass. Mickey learns that Gee saw Kacey not too long ago and Kacey is pregnant. She also discovers letters in Gee's house that indicate her father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, is still alive. Mickey goes to Delaware to see him. Mickey finds out that her father is the man that Mrs. Mahon saw around her apartment a few months ago. He is sober now and wanted to reconnect with Mickey and Kacey. Daniel reveals that he's trying to help Kacey get sober, so she has been staying with him.
Despite Mulvey being in custody, another strangulation murder happens, and this time the victim is Paula Mulroney (Mickey had previously disclosed Paula as the source of her information about the crooked cop). After Paula's funeral, Kacey tells Mickey that her partner is rumored to be the crooked cop. At first she thinks Kacey is referring to Truman (former partner), but it turns out to be Eddie Lafferty (new partner). With Dock's help, Kacey and Mickey confront him and Lafferty is arrested. Lafferty is confirmed to be the killer (his ex-wife was one of the victims).
Afterwards, Mickey quits the force. Kacey has her baby. The monitor it for signs of substance withdrawal.
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.
If this summary was useful to you, please consider supporting this site by leaving a tip ($2, $3, or $5) or joining the Patreon!
How interesting about the lack of quotation marks. I have been tempted to buy this book so many times but I keep talking myself out of it. Mostly because I wasn’t sure about a mystery with a heavy drug addiction plot. I think if I get really tempted to read it I will just get it from the library!
Unlike you, I really enjoyed this, but thanks for sharing your thoughts
I agree with your review! You gotta be in a right mindset to read this book, the first one being – don’t expect a thriller! :) And oh yes the quotation marks…I guess I got used to it :) Great review, Jennifer!
This book’s description sounded familiar, but I wasn’t 100% sure until I read your nice, detailed summary — yep, I’ve read Long Bright River already. Clearly it didn’t make a lasting impression on me! ;) FYI, the last sentence of the summary is “The monitor it [the baby]…” I assume you mean “They”? Just out of curiosity, is there a reason why you use “it” instead of “she” or “he” for the baby?