Friday, November 11, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: Bright Midnight by Chris Formant

After reading the premise I agreed to be sent a copy of Chris Formant's Bright Midnight in exchange for a review. Most music fans, of almost any genre, are familiar with the Myth of the 27 Club. Several artists - including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison - died at the age of 27, at the height of their popularity. Formant's novel surmises that these deaths weren't suicides, but instead carefully planned murders.

The Situation: Gantry Elliot may have what many consider to be a dream job, but he feels ancient and a bit under appreciated when he is around many of his coworkers. As a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Elliott has reported some of music histories greatest moments, and subsequently, his knowledge about the industry approaches encyclopedic. But with a focus on classic rock, he doesn't get to write as much as he used to, and the 20-somethings that now surround him at work disregard him as out of touch and a little too old school. When a mysterious package shows up on his desk claiming that a member of the infamous 27 Club was murdered, Elliot initially shrugs it off as a prank. But the packages keep coming, and the clues inside turn out to be artifacts that only someone incredibly close to the artists themselves could possibly have in their possession.

The Problem: These clues that keep landing in Elliot's lap could lead to the biggest story of his career. But if the members of the 27 Club were murdered by what appears to be a serial killer, then why is someone turning over the evidence now? Is the killer still out there? And why does this mystery messenger seem to know where Elliot lives and where he is at all times? It becomes enough to get the FBI involved, and for Elliot to begin looking over his shoulder. Even Elliot's skeptical boss, Alex Jaeger, becomes involved as he sees the potential of what a story like this could do for Rolling Stone. But even with the mystery informant seemingly giving up all of the good information, it soon becomes clear that this story won't be easy to get, and it will take the combined efforts of officials in three different countries to get everything they need.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day, but it looks back in time to when musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Peter Ham, and others, were turning up dead, all at the age of 27. The cases concerning their deaths are eventually opened as cold cases and investigated all over again, when initially they were accepted as suicides, or accidental suicides. To realize such a thing now, with so much time having passed, would mean bringing to light a massive cover up that someone had managed to keep hidden, and most likely wants to keep it that way. Naturally, issues of greed and fame come up, and Elliot begins to wonder just how deep this thing seems to go. Anyone who is a fan of any of the above named artists would recognize some of the details surrounding their life and death. Formant takes classic rock history and manages to play with it just enough to offer a plausible alternate version of history.

My Verdict: While the premise is certainly fun and interesting, and it is fun to somewhat go back in time and look at the lives of some of classic rock's biggest stars, I wish the fun translated through to the more mundane aspects of the actual investigation. It was fun to read about Elliot having mysterious clues dropped off at his job or apartment, but the book becomes much less fun once he officially joins up with the FBI and the actual investigation begins. Essentially, any part that didn't have Eliot in control of the story was almost always guaranteed to be boring, and the further along we get into plot, the more Elliot would disappear. Formant does manage to pull it all together in a very intense and entertaining final 100 pages or so, which is impressive considering just how much he puts out there. All of the pieces seem to fit together nicely with very few loose ends, and a good amount of action.

Favorite Moment: Whenever Elliot's cowboy boots are mentioned. As a native of Texas, he still insists on wearing them even though he now lives in New York City (and I want to be clear here, not everyone who lives in or is from Texas wears or even owns cowboy boots).

Favorite Character: I empathize with Elliot, but my favorite would actually have to be FBI Agent Raphael Melendez. He would end up taking the lead on the case and is actually the one taking the most risk in pursuing it in the first place.

Recommended Reading: I recommend The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. It isn't quite of the same vein, but Moore does reimagine the stories of King Lear, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice into a hilarious adventure involving murder and romance. 

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