“Bright and Deadly Things” by Lexie Elliott (Berkley)
A mysterious quarrel. A seductive student. A mystical watch. And a shocking series of dips that seem less like a coincidence and more like a pattern.
Thriller writer Lexie Elliott returns with a paranoia-ridden mystery set in an academic retreat in the idyllic French Alps, aptly titled Bright and Deadly Things. The novel, which is mainly played from the point of view of the recently widowed Emily Rivers, is also dotted with diary entries that reveal more about the party for the Oxford professors, graduates and students, and the history of the chalet through the diary entries of previous parties. All are written in an urgent but thoughtful first-person tense that is smooth to the touch and lets the pages flow.
When Emily misses her flight, she comes home in the middle of a burglary. Later it appears someone is going through her belongings in the chalet. Emily begins to suspect her “Chaletite” peers as more and more odd behaviors emerge among the 13 academics.
As an added feature, this year’s trip to the Chalet des Anglais coincides with the 100th anniversary of the remote cottage’s burning down. And the enchanting grandfather clock that somehow survived the fire has suddenly turned up after being missing for decades.
Before long there is a series of puzzling problems and disturbing discoveries coiled so tightly that it’s not even clear where to direct your fears. Elliott forces your eyes to look down the page because you can’t wait a second longer to find out what happens next.
Bright and Deadly Things offers a special brand of psychological horror that’s just as terrifying in the dark of night as it is in daylight, similar to Ari Aster’s 2019 film Midsommar. Both are primarily set in a remote, peaceful setting with a Multitude of young academics and competing interests peeling away from reality and shaving at audience touchstones to analyze psychology and human behavior.
Between Emily’s insecurity about her own state of mind following the death of her husband and the persistent, intrusive thoughts that pepper the entire book, the novel is so shrouded in doubt that it’s hard for the reader to know what’s real, without scrolling back to check it out for yourself.
But if you’re worried about Elliott leaving something hanging, fear not: by the end of the trip, it’s wrapped up pretty well, and a few super late twists will tie up any remaining loose ends. Let it carry you through the tediously brutal waits where answers are just out of reach.