by Sarah Pearse
380 pages. Penguin Random House
The setup for The Sanatorium was so promising.
British detective Elin and her boyfriend, Will, travel to the Swiss Alps for her estranged brother’s engagement party. Her goal is to confront him about their little brother’s mysterious death when they were kids. Still scarred from that, her mother’s recent death, and a mishap on her last case, Elin is ill at ease the moment they get to Le Sommet.
Even though the sanatorium has been transformed into a luxury hotel, remnants of the past remain including display boxes calling attention to the past medical facility. Elin feels disjointed from the decorations as well as the views of sharp mountaintops and heavy snow.
Despite her mental state, Elin agrees to help when her brother’s fiancee goes missing. After bodies start showing up, and an avalanche leaves them stranded, she’s the only one in a position to solve the crime—if she doesn’t become the next victim.
The Sanatorium had all the makings of a great atmospheric thriller; isolated location, jagged mountains, exposed windows, and past secrets. It was well written and for the most part a good read.
However, it lost me in a few places, especially when you find out who the killer is.
In the initial setup, it’s insinuated that Elin messed up her last case because she was brash and didn’t think before following the killer into a cave. Normally, this kind of setup leads to some sort of character growth. It’s expected she will be faced will a similar situation later in the book and will not act brashly. This never played out.
Also, I felt that the main draw to the story was the sanatorium with the dark past. It made me think of stories like Shutter Island and Stonehurst Assylum. Unfortunately, history is riddled with true horror stories taking place in these types of institutions. I expected this book to use that more than as setting and plot decoration.
The killings were stylized and gruesome. The pacing and suspense were tight. But the payoff felt disjointed because the main motivation for the killings wasn’t hinted at earlier, and it didn’t connect the way the people were killed strongly enough with the killer’s motivation. Those elements were there, but it felt like tape instead of glue. In the end, I didn’t have total buy-in that the killer would have done the things that were done.
Although it wasn’t perfect, I still recommend the book to people who love this genre. Just don’t expect any exciting plot twists.