Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

4.5 of 5 stars

Book Blurb:

You won’t want to leave. . . until you can’t.

Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.

An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge–there’s something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in...

Book Review:

Whoa. I just finished reading this book and it's 2 AM. I usually wait to gather my thoughts about a book before I start writing a review, but this book demands that I deviate from that process.

My usual thing is letting my thoughts simmer a while, and hopefully try to frame coherent opinions. Here though, I'm just going to let this be a stream of consciousness review. I don't know how else to review this book.

Let me clarify, I really really liked this book. The narrative style at the beginning threw me off. The author's descriptive style was a tad different than usual, which is not a bad thing at all, just took me some time to get into. Oh and slow burn. This book does slow burn mystery so beautifully. The pace was just right and as the story progressed, the pace increased ever so slightly, corresponding to the protagonist, Elin, getting more anxious and frenetic about the case.

A locked room mystery - a whodunit and also a "why done it", it was interesting to uncover snippets of information as the story progressed. The story is set in, of course, a sanatorium turned hotel in the Swiss Alps. There is an avalanche and the hotel is cut off from civilization, and not all the guests and staff have been evacuated before it gets bad. The police cannot reach the hotel after the murder occurs, but as we are assured in the acknowledgement, this is creative license, and the Swiss police, in actuality, can reach anywhere, anytime. 

The hotel, the erstwhile Sanatorium, is a character in its own right, with a personality, secrets and moods of its own. Slowly, we see the plot unfold, and the horror (some body horror), violence and body count goes up. You can sense the killer getting frantic, while also seeing Elin trying her best to deal with the situation, while also dealing with her personal demons. Add in her family troubles and trust issues with her brother Isaac, she's increasingly struggling with the predicament she finds herself in, with barely anyone she can trust.

Misdirection abounds, and there are many references to the history of the sanatorium as well, where I actually learned quite a bit about the history of sanatoriums in general, something I knew nothing about prior to reading this book.

A really engaging book with a unique setting and narrative style, I'll certainly be reading all of Pearse's future work!

Oh, here's a collage / moodboard I made about this book because I couldn't stop thinking about it. If it is turned into a movie or limited series, I'd totally want Zoë Tapper to play Elin Warner.

Overall, a slow burn, locked room mystery with a gothic vibe, all of which appeal to me quite a bit individually, so throw 'em all together in the hands of a skilled author, and it's one of my best books of 2021 so far. 

 

!! Spoiler Section Ahead !!

Folks, if you haven't read the book yet, please don't read any further. It isn't a total spoiler in terms of plot, but just a plot device of sorts that is a sore point for me personally. But refrain.

Okay, so this is the reason I had to deduct 0.5 stars - I don't love it when the motivation of the culprit is something that just comes up out of the blue. I like it to have some hints dropped, some clues peppered through the story. It's part of the charm of trying to solve the mystery while reading the book. Here, unfortunately, the motivation just shows up out of nowhere near the end, and I felt a bit robbed of a fair attempt. Not a perfect ending, for me.

However, I did love this book. It was visceral yet charming, and a slow-burn, locked room mystery with a gothic vibe just gets so many things right that I was absolutely happy to overlook that bit. In a lesser story, or at the hands of a less skilled author, this point would probably have disappointed me more than just a 0.5 star reduction. Pearse is an immense talent, and her work is a joy to read. Just wanted to explain why the point reduction after such an effusive review.

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