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Contemporary Novels

LONG BRIGHT RIVER by Liz Moore

I could go on at some length about all the things in this book that should have annoyed me. The present tense. The lack of quotation marks (why, oh why do writers do that?). The half-page chapters needlessly breaking up continuous action. The space breaks after every sentence during the climax. The secrets that the not-entirely reliable first-person narrator holds back until nearly the end.

But I won’t. The truth is that Moore’s protagonist–Michaela, aka Mickey, Fitzpatrick–uniformed beat cop, single mom, sister to the homeless heroin addict Kacey–hooked me from the start. It’s not just the gorgeous prose, the complex characters, the vivid setting (Philadelphia’s vice-ridden Kensington neighborhood), or the masterfully constructed storyline (which had me gobbling red herrings and fighting for balance as the rug was pulled out from under me time and again). What makes this book so mesmerizing is its relentless compassion.

There’s a somewhat conventional suspense armature that holds everything together, the hunt for a serial killer of prostitutes. Moore strips this chestnut of all sensationalism and focuses instead on realistic police work, the grim monotony of the victims’ lives, and hints that things may not be what they seem. It’s personal for Mickey because her sister could be the next victim, yet this plot thread recedes as Moore, in long sections labeled “Then,” reveals more and more of the Fitzpatrick family history, the addictions, the bonds, the betrayals, the poverty and hardship. Privilege, in this novel, is something only seen at a distance.

As the story unwinds, the characters surprise repeatedly–with cynicism and cruelty, but also with unexpected kindness and wrenching insight.

LONG BRIGHT RIVER is literary suspense with the emphasis on “literary,” making me think of a cross between Donna Tartt and Tana French, dealing with the most serious issues of morality, gender, and psychology, while never losing the momentum of its juggernaut plot.

By Lewis Shiner

Lewis Shiner is the author of OUTSIDE THE GATES OF EDEN, the cyberpunk classic FRONTERA, and the award-winning GLIMPSES, among other novels. He's also published short story collections, journalism, and comics. Virtually all of his work is available for free download at fictionliberationfront.net. For more information, browse to lewisshiner.com.

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