‘Long Bright River’ – Liz Moore

‘The dropper is lowered. The child turns his head toward it, toward the medicine, seeking it. He remembers it.
He opens his mouth. He drinks.’

The closing image of Long Bright River is just one of the images that will haunt me some time in the future. The ‘medicine’ being administered to this newborn is an opiate substitute. From the outset this child, like so many others, will show signs of addiction and need care to withdraw successfully. He may or may not make it. So many do not.

From the synopsis I knew this was not going to be a comfortable read. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how powerful I found the story.

The story focuses predominantly on two sisters, Mickey and Kacey. Brought up by their grandmother after their mother overdoses, they live in a fairly deprived area of Philadelphia. The sisters have the same opportunities but take very different paths. Mickey becomes a police officer, patrolling her home streets, looking out for those who live to feed their addiction. Kacey is one of the many in the grips of addiction, working the streets to earn what she needs for her next fix. This part of the story, and the slow reveal of the nature of their relationship over time, would have kept me engaged on its own.

However, in the course of her work Mickey starts to realise that many of the girls working the streets are being killed. The initial response is that they’ve overdosed, but the signs point to a killer on the loose. When Mickey learns that Kacey has been missing for a month, she fears what may happen next. And so begins the other compelling part of the story: the police procedural showing the investigation and the thriller as we start to realise that the person responsible may be a lot closer to Mickey and her role than you’d dare imagine.

Long Bright River focuses on so many unpalatable truths. There’s no happy-ever-after ending, but the story and its characters certainly grip you from the outset and will not relinquish that grip easily. A powerful read.