The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

After the tease of cooler weather a couple weeks ago, this week it seems like the autumnal air is finally here to stay. I've been trying to sprinkle in a few spookier reads among my usual genres, and have been eagerly awaiting Sarah Pearse's novel The Sanatorium since it was released. It was hard not to be sucked into the world that Pearse has conjured.  A decommissioned sanatorium turned luxury hotel is the kind of setting that just brims with the creepiness that I crave during this time of year. Throw into that the promise of a mystery, and I was completely sold. 

Le Sommet has been strategically positioned amongst the dense forest and steep mountain peaks of the Swiss Alps, giving it both a sense of grand majesty and unyielding isolation. In the early days of its operation, this setting helped the sanatorium stay out of sight and out of mind, a place where society could hide away the people who couldn't function within it. All these years later, that kind of treatment has been halted and the building that housed it relegated to an abandoned vestige of the past. But the former Sanatorium is being given new life, renovated into a minimalist hotel that combines the historic location with more modern amenities. Even as the hotel opens, however, it isn't without controversy. The architect of the redesign has gone missing, vanished without a trace. 

Elin Warner has recently taken some time away from her job as a detective. The pressure was becoming too much to handle and negatively impacting her performance. This break is intended to help her replenish her mental and emotional health. She's surprised to hear from her estranged brother and is even more surprised when he invites her to visit the recently opened Le Sommet to meet his new fiancee Laurie. Elin is hesitant to go, but without the excuse of work the keep her home, she sees no real alternative. Her arrival to the austere establishments coincides with a blistering storm, mirroring the foreboding unease she feels. 

Things with her brother aren't much better than they've been before, and she can't help but question his intentions for inviting her there. The next morning, Elin awakes to learn that Laurie has disappeared in the night.  Her experience as a detective kicks into high gear as she begins investigating the strange disappearance. The more she looks into things, the direr the situation seems. Even worse, the winter storm has cut off all access to the outside world. What Elin could never imagine is the sheer scope of the danger she and the rest of the guests at the hotel have just placed themselves into. You see, unbeknownst to anyone else, another woman has gone missing. With her out of the picture, the knowledge of this place and its history have vanished too. Now Elin will have to dig deep into her own investigative prowess to uncover the truth before it is too late. 

Sarah Pearse's debut novel The Sanatorium offered the promise of a classic locked-room mystery set in a brilliantly unsettling location. Indeed the opening of the novel perfectly sets the scene and adds to the dread with a mysterious figure hooded in a historical gas mask from a hundred years ago. But then, all pretense of a spine-chilling mystery is dropped in favor of a family drama that had me scratching my head. Surely this wasn't the same book I had just begun to read! Don't get me wrong, there are portions of this novel where glimmers of that opening suspense shine through, but for the most part, the book is more the main character grappling with her own drama than actively investigating a mystery. What should have been a chilling examination on the sins of the past turned out to be a slow unearthing of family secrets that made reading this book more of a chore than it needed to be. I've seen that Pearse has written a follow-up novel featuring her heroine, but after trudging through this one I don't know that I'll be rushing to pick it up. Simply put, The Sanatorium just wasn't for me. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 40)


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24 Responses to “The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse”

  1. I felt the same way...it seemed to just fall flat and it had so much promise

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    1. I think that's my biggest complaint. There was so much potential that seems to have been wasted.

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  2. I didn't love this one either. I felt like the pacing was slow, and the story didn't go any where, but then the ending was really rushed. And where was the Gothic atmosphere? And why was it set in an asylum if that history never even plays a part in the actual mystery. This one was disappointing. And I hated the epilogue.

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    1. I completely agree. It just never amounted to much of anything. But apparently enough people enjoyed it to warrant a sequel.

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    2. Well, I'll be passing on the sequel. :)

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  3. I am so glad we are on the same page with this one. Such a perfect set-up, loved the spooky atmosphere...but what a garbage reveal that made no fucking sense. Like, how would we even hope to begin to know anything about what it all amounted to, without knowing ANY important backstory??? BLECH.

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head. The reveal falls flat because none of it is earned.

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  4. I liked it Ethan, but I listened to it which may be why I did enjoy it. Although some situations were far fetched.

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    1. Interesting. Now you've got me curious as to whether I would have enjoyed the audio version more. Much of what I didn't like was the slow pacing, so perhaps having someone else read it to me would have changed that.

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  5. Too bad, cos I have seen it at the library

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    1. People seem to either really enjoy it or just not like it at all, so don't let my negative review be the determining factor for you. Definitely take in a consensus from other reviewers before deciding one way or the other.

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  6. Not really engaging with a story is one thing, but it always seems extra disappointing when it's a book that you had high hopes for.

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    1. I agree. What the cover and blurb promise and what is actually delivered really added to my disappointment with this one.

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  7. The reviews that I have seen for this one have been pretty mixed. How disappointing especially since it started out well. I hope that your next read is better.

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    1. You win some and lose some. On to the next!

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  8. Family drama...ugh. Ruth Ware did a Swiss Alps locked room type mystery. This started so good too.

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    1. I really enjoyed Woman in Cabin 10, but couldn't bring myself to finish The Lying Game. I guess what I'm saying is I'll never not read an author based on a single book. That being said, I'll probably wait for Pearse to do a book with a different character.

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  9. Sorry to hear the book was more of a chore to read.

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    1. Thanks. Sometimes that is just the way things shake out.

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  10. Unfortunately, I had the same reaction to THE SANITORIUM. The premise sounded so good that I bought the (very expensive) hardcover book. Like you, I thought it started out well, but then it totally went downhill. So disappointing!

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    1. If there's any silver lining to be had, I'm glad that I waited to borrow the book from my library instead of purchasing it.

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    2. There's not better way to describe it. It was not shocking, it just...happened. Like, how are we supposed to try and figure it out when we don't have ANY actual pieces? There's always something to give a possible hint of the outcome, and it never has to be huge, it just has to be THERE. It wasn't and I kind of wish everyone would have died in an avalanche.

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    3. Absolutely the sheer lack of any attempt at actually setting up a mystery severely impacted the ending of this one.

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