Bright and Tender Dark (Hardcover)

Bright and Tender Dark By Joanna Pearson Cover Image
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“A literary murder mystery with unexpected twists. It’s been 20 years since Karlie, Joy's friend, was murdered. Will a long-forgotten letter Joy finds from Karlie help reopen the case? A great read for book clubs true crime fans.”
— Karin Pinto, Second Flight Books, Lafayette, IN


In the tradition of Notes on an Execution and I Have Some Questions for You, a thrilling, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Days after the dawn of Y2K, beautiful, charismatic nineteen-year-old Karlie Richards is found brutally murdered in her campus apartment. Two decades later, those who knew Karlie-and those who just knew of her-remain consumed by her death. Among them is her freshman year roommate, Joy, now middle-aged and mid-divorce, living in the same college town and desperate for a new beginning. When she stumbles upon a twenty-year-old letter from Karlie, Joy becomes convinced the man in prison for her murder was wrongfully convicted. Soon she is diving deep into the dark world of internet conspiracy theorists and amateur sleuth blogs and bouncing off others touched by the long, sensational aftermath of this crime. They include KC, the trans night manager at the building where Karlie was killed; Sheri, the mother of the man serving time; and Jacob Hendrix, the charming professor with whom, Joy knows all too well, Karlie was romantically entangled before her death.

Jumping between 2019 and 1999, Bright and Tender Dark takes us from the era of Reddit threads and online obsession to the evangelism-infused culture of the late '90s to reveal what really happened to Karlie. It is a compulsively readable, prismatic literary mystery that brilliantly mines the mythology of murder, the power of urban legend, and the psychological urge to both protect and exploit what you love but cannot have.

About the Author

Joanna Pearson is the author of two short story collections and a book of poetry. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and many other publications. She has won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and the Virginia Literary Awards. She lives in North Carolina, where she works as a psychiatrist. Bright and Tender Dark is her debut novel.

Praise For…

“Pearson deftly moves between time periods and perspectives. Smart, assured, and absorbing.” —Booklist, Starred Reveiw

“Pearson's rich debut murder mystery gathers potency from its portrait of middle-aged millennial angst and Y2K-era misogyny . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly

“[An] intricate debut novel . . . This is a perfect choice for true-crime readers.” —Shelf Awareness

“Sensitive, aching, and far-reaching, Bright and Tender Dark explores one death and so many altered lives. Joanna Pearson is an exquisite writer. Her novel will sweep you away.” —Julia Phillips, author of DISAPPEARING EARTH

Bright and Tender Dark is so propulsive that I couldn't stop reading it, but so beautifully and perceptively observed that I wanted to slow down and linger over every sentence. There are many mysteries in this book - most obviously, there's the decades-ago murder of a charismatic college student-but Pearson is also interested in the things we do, and don't, know about the people closest to us, and how we are sometimes strangers to ourselves. Anyone who's ever been obsessed by a crime story will find a facet of themselves in this wise, compelling, and gripping book.” —Rachel Monroe, author of SAVAGE APPETITES

Bright and Tender Dark is a haunting and lyrical read with the pace of a whodunnit that examines true crime fandom without succumbing to the genre's temptations. Joanna Pearson masterfully intercuts between 1999 and 2019, taking us through the egos of academia, the pull of organized religion, and the possibility of miscarried justice to ask: how and when does a woman's life become a ghost story?” —Becky Cooper, author of WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE

Product Details
ISBN: 9781639732890
ISBN-10: 1639732896
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 288
Language: English