cover image Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark

Joanna Pearson. Bloomsbury, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63973-289-0

Pearson’s rich debut murder mystery gathers potency from its portrait of middle-aged millennial angst and Y2K-era misogyny. In 2019, 20 years after Joy Brunner’s freshman year college roommate, Karlie Richards, was brutally murdered, the mom of two discovers an unopened letter from Karlie, written just before her death, tucked into an old book. The cryptic letter’s contents send Joy down a rabbit hole of true crime message boards and conspiracy theories, spurring her to conduct an obsessive investigation into the people closest to Karlie back at the University of North Carolina—including a professor who pursued dubious relationships with both girls. From there, Pearson rewinds back to 1999 and follows 18-year-old Karlie in the months leading up to her death. The past and present-day story lines converge as Joy’s investigation reaches a boiling point in the tense finale. The plot is solidly constructed but not quite exceptional. Where Pearson shines is in her palpable evocation of both decades, and her rendering of the challenges Joy and Karlie face as women. Pearson’s gift for texture and emotional resonance mark her as a talent to watch. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)