Review: The Redemption of Morgan Bright by Chris Panatier

cover of The Redemption of Morgan BrightThe Redemption of Morgan Bright by Chris Panatier
Angry Robot (April 23, 2024)
400 pages; $18.99 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

2024 is already looking to be a banner year for horror and dark thrillers. Chris Panatier is set to be one of those voices readers are not likely to forget.

Tales told in an asylum setting tend to be fascinating as a whole, especially through the fractured mystique of mental health. The Redemption of Morgan Bright is likely the best novel is this vein since Shutter Island, even though the two couldn’t be any more different. So much of Panatiers’ story relies on the layered plot and unfolding of who Morgan Bright truly is — and who she’s not.

When her sister winds up dead a mile from Hollyhock Asylum, Morgan invents a persona, Charlotte Turner, to be institutionalized for fictionalized reasons. The term is set to be only thirty days — a bit like the true experience of Nellie Bly back in the late 1800’s. Yet things don’t turn out as expected.

Hollyhock appears to be something of an anomaly in hospitals. Charlotte, whose personality is that of a meek housewife seeking to be “fit” for childbirth, discovers strange procedures galore within the ward. The nurses, who might give Nurse Ratched a migraine with their strange rituals and beliefs, do their best to convince her that all is well and she will walk out of Hollyhock a new woman.

That’s where the horror creeps in, bit by bit, page by page, treating the reader to a treasure of a narrative that varies between Charlotte, Morgan, and transcripts from the police, a method that intrigues as well as thwarts an easy solution for those who delve into the author’s world. Charlotte slowly becomes more of Morgan — but how, and why? What do the rituals and secret treatment rooms that harken back to the horrific asylums of yesteryear mean? Her visions and strange episodes expand and deepen with each day as her reality slips. Morgan is determined to solve her sister’s murder, but at what cost to her own sanity — and life?

To say more about the story would be criminal as this novel is an experience, not simply a plot and characters. Panatier’s writing is mesmerizing here, lulling the reader to believe that it might just be a thriller or drama ala Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when, instead, it embraces the inventive narratives of The House On Needless Street and the aforementioned Shutter Island. Yes, there are twists, but woven into the fabric of this story, and never as a cheap device. The unwinding of reality (after all, this is an Angry Robot publication), occurs in fits and starts, keeping the reader off guard. Is the tale one of supernatural origins or simply a delusion within Morgan’s guilt-ridden mind? Her character alone is enough reason to dive into the book, but the title here is meaningful and one that cannot be described in a simple line.

Panatier has penned a masterful story here with The Redemption of Morgan Bright, one which should make waves throughout the year. Enter his — and Morgan’s stay — at your own peril.

My early vote for a top ten book of the year.

Leave a Reply