January 28, 2021

Book Review

The Sanatorium

Sarah Pearse

reviewed by Steven White

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the medical community opened a new type of institution: the sanatorium. Designed to be a place where tuberculosis patients could receive treatment for their illness, these care facilities were usually built in high-altitude locations in order to provide the freshest of air, as at the time, that cold and fresh air was believed to be the best treatment for diseases of the lung.

They offered nutrition, sunlight, peaceful rest, and cool, crisp mountain air as the ideal course to help patients heal. Having a beautiful and cold mountain region that fit these criteria perfect, Switzerland was home to many of these sanatoriums. This was, of course, before the discovery of antibiotics, which provided an actual cure for tuberculosis and other diseases. After this breakthrough, these places either shut down or were repurposed for other uses. Unfortunately, sometimes these places also have sordid histories…

Sarah Pearse’s debut novel takes one of these treatment facilities and gives it new life. Architects Lucas Caron and Daniel Lemaitre took an old sanatorium and turned it into a hotel, redesigning this place of illness and suffering into a top-of-the-line luxury resort, tucked deep into the mountains of Switzerland. Main character Elin Warner and her boyfriend Will are headed there to celebrate the engagement of her brother Isaac to their childhood friend, Laure. Alas, someone has other plans for the hotel guests and as winter storms cut them off from the rest of the world, a murderer’s plot unfolds. What the killer doesn’t know is that, even though she’s on leave, Elin just so happens to be a detective, and she’s thrust into a thrilling hunt for a clever killer.

I love a good mystery thriller, especially one set in a locale that’s cut off from the rest of the world, where one (or a few) characters use the limited resources they have to solve the case. This book reminded me of some of my favorite stories, with elements reminiscent of The Shining, one of my absolute favorite horror novels and also set in a snow-isolated hotel with a sordid history; of Agatha Christie, a Master of mystery and the Queen of devious plotting with a limited cast of suspects; of the masterpiece PlayStation 4 game “Until Dawn,” in which a group of friends go to a remote cabin lodge that just so happens to have creepy mines and an abandoned sanatorium nearby—and of course, a fantastic, deliciously horrifying storyline.

The Sanatorium was a superbly written amalgam of the aspects I loved best about these stories, minus the paranormal, of course. It’s hard to believe that this is Pearse’s debut novel, as it reads as if it were written by a seasoned author. While I did suspect the killer early on, my theories as to why and how were way off base, and there were some twists and turns that knocked my suppositions off their feet. I love when a mystery author can find new ways to shock and confuse, and Pearse definitely had me second-guessing myself the whole way through.

All in all, highly recommended read for those who love mystery, thriller, and almost-horror suspense novels.

Thanks to NetGalley and the Penguin Group/Pamela Dorman Books for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

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