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Literature

Review: Paranoia-racked Thriller ‘Bright and Deadly Things’

February 14, 2023

“Bright and Deadly Things” by Lexie Elliott (Berkley)

A mysterious argument. A seductive student. A mystical clock. And a shocking series of break-ins that begin to seem less like a coincidence and more like a pattern.

Thriller author Lexie Elliott returns with a paranoia-racked mystery set at an academic retreat in the idyllic French Alps, aptly titled “Bright and Deadly Things.” Mostly taking place from the recently widowed Emily Rivers’ point of view, the novel is also scattered with diary entries revealing more about the party of Oxford professors, grads and undergrads, as well as the history of the chalet via previous parties’ journal entries. All are written in an urgent-yet-thoughtful first-person present tense that feels smooth and keeps pages flowing.

When Emily misses her flight, she comes home in the midst of a break-in. Later, it seems someone is snooping through her things at the chalet. Emily begins to suspect her fellow “chaletites” as more and more strange behavior bubbles up among the cast of 13 academics.

In an added layer of peculiarity, this year’s trip to the Chalet des Anglais coincides with the 100th anniversary of the remote cabin burning down. And the bewitching grandfather clock that somehow survived the fire has suddenly turned up after being missing for decades.

Before long, there’s a string of puzzling problems and disturbing discoveries coiled so thick it’s not even clear where to aim your fear. Elliott forces your eyes to glance down the page because you can’t wait a second longer to find out what happens next.

“Bright and Deadly Things” features a special kind of psychological horror that’s just as terrifying in the dark of night as it is in the light of day, akin to Ari Aster’s 2019 film “Midsommar.” Both are mainly set in a secluded, halcyon environment with a host of young academics and competing interests, peeling back reality and shaving away at the audience’s touchstones to analyze psychology and human behavior.

Between Emily’s uncertainty in her own mental state after the death of her husband, and the persistent intrusive thoughts peppered throughout, the novel is shrouded in doubt so thick it’s hard to know as a reader what’s real without flipping back to verify for yourself.

But if you’re worried Elliott will leave something hanging, have no fear: It’s pretty well wrapped by the end of the trip, and a couple of super-late twists tie up the remaining loose ends. Let that buoy you through the painstakingly brutal waiting periods when answers are just out of reach.

 

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