Author: Liz Moore
Publication: Riverhead (Putnam), hardcover, 2020
Description: Mickey Fitzpatrick is a Philadelphia policewoman who likes her job and whose only stress should be whether the babysitter for her 4-year-old son turns up on time. Yet, while they haven’t spoken for years, she worries constantly about her younger sister Kacey, a drug addict who turns to prostitution when she needs money for her addiction, right on Mickey’s neighborhood beat. When Kacey disappears just as a series of murders target women on the street, Mickey tries desperately to find her sister although her supervisor tells her to back off and there are rumors a cop is involved. The story is told in the present with flashbacks to the sisters’ childhood, revealing the cause for their estrangement as well as the surprisingly enduring bond that sends Kacey back to help when Mickey most needs her.
My Impression: One of the many questions in this book is how two sisters can turn out so differently; both Michaela (Mickey) and Kacey, taken in by a grandmother who resents the overdose death of their mother, are desperate for affection with disastrous results leading to situations where both make mistakes with long-reaching consequences. From childhood, Mickey has been horrified by her sister’s out-of-control behavior and feels guilty that she has not been able to prevent it or do more to support Kacey’s occasional efforts to beat her addiction. The story is also about betrayal, which comes from all sides: family, partners, and police. Mickey’s search for the murderer is less about solving the crime than trying to figure out if he is responsible for her sister’s disappearance.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of gritty Philadelphia neighborhoods I don’t see when I zip into town for basketball games at the Palestra. I am not familiar enough with the treatment of babies with opioid dependency to know if neonatal care would have helped Kacey cope as a child. The title of the book comes from Kacey’s addiction:
I pulled her back onto her back by her shoulder. Her left arm flopped over onto the bed. A strip of cotton tee shirt hung, loosened now, around her lower biceps. Below this makeshift tourniquet; the long bright river of her vein. Her face was slack and blue, her mouth open, her eyes closed but for a sliver of white that showed beneath the lashes.
I like police procedurals but I am not a fan of unrelenting misery and, at first, I thought this book was just too gritty for me, then became engrossed in the story. One of the things that makes the book is its minor characters: Mickey’s police colleagues, her landlady, her ex, her grandmother, her son, and even the unreliable babysitter are vividly depicted. One character is a high school teacher who recognizes Mickey’s talent and encourages her to apply to college. When Mickey’s grandmother laughs at the financial aid forms and scoffs at her ambitions, Mickey calls the teacher but hangs up when the phone is answered, not knowing how to ask for help because she and Kacey have never had anyone to advocate for them.
One irritant was the omission of quotation marks which is one of my pet peeves. Is that the kind of gimmick that gets this book reviewed as a literary thriller? It seems to me a number of crime novels are well written and character-driven, challenging the reader, if that is the criteria.
This is my first book in the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.