The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

So I requested this novel ahead of reviewing Sarah Pearse’s upcoming follow up to it, The Retreat. Interestingly, the publicist seemed a little reluctant to send it over — not a problem I’ve usually had with books from larger publishing houses, who don’t have to watch their margins as closely as smaller presses do. I put it down to maybe them not wanting to give away a Reese’s Book Club selection for free, but after reading the book, I’ve come to an even more practical conclusion: this book just isn’t that good. Worse, it’s been poorly reviewed, even by my most generous friends (who seem to prefer the sequel anyway!)

The Sanatorium is the first in the Detective Elin Warner series. Elin is a British police detective on extended leave from her job after a murderer she was apprehending attempted to kill her, too. Now she’s accepted an invitation from her estranged brother Isaac to come to an isolated Swiss hotel to celebrate his engagement. Her boyfriend Will is along for moral support, tho she hasn’t really told him much about her troubled relationship with Isaac beyond the fact that he pretty much left her to care for their dying mother on her own, not even coming back for the funeral.

When Isaac’s fiancee, who happens to work at the hotel, goes missing, Elin reaches for a reasonable explanation despite Isaac’s belief that something terrible must have happened to Laure. But as a snowstorm descends on the sanatorium-turned-hotel perched precariously in the Swiss Alps, Elin’s concern grows. The simultaneous announcement of an avalanche cutting off the roads with the discovery of a body floating in one of the heated pools spreads fear throughout the staff and guests trapped on the premises. With the Swiss police unable to make it through the snow, Elin takes charge, securing the scene and collecting as much evidence as she can. But a cunning killer is ready to strike again and again, and Elin soon finds herself overwhelmed as she strives to secure her loved ones from the threat looming over them all.

This is a fascinating premise for a murder mystery, a sort of isolated manor house mystery by way of The Shining. And I really, really liked the reveal of who the murderer was and why they were doing all this. The theme of forcing out the truth after decades of deliberate and often cruel obfuscation is compelling. But I had a hard time getting over what an absolute dishrag of a person Elin was and, worse, how the author kept portraying the abuse she received from both her brother and her boyfriend as acts of care. It was genuinely ghastly how shittily they treated her, and how Elin kept blaming herself and bending over backwards to excuse them. This book had me very concerned as to the author’s emotional health. I’m really hoping that she already knows that this kind of behavior is not okay and that she and her heroine deserve to be treated way, way better.

Anyway, I’m reading the sequel now and holding out hope that Elin grows a spine and stops internalizing the awful accusations thrown her way by people who are supposed to love her but are really just abusive assholes. Watch out for that review over at in about ten days!

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse was published February 2nd 2021 by Pamela Dorman Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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  1. This is a great review!

    1. Ha, thanks! I just had a whole long discussion with my best friend about authorial voice precisely because of my concern over the attitudes this author is displaying in her book(s). I agree with the author that family is important, but that’s no excuse for letting them abuse you! It’s also odd because there’s a contrast between what the heroine puts up with vs what other characters with bad families in her books have to deal with, almost as if the author is saying “see, what Elin is going through isn’t so bad compared to these guys!” And while that is true, that’s a bit like saying “well, he might beat me but at least he isn’t a serial killer!” Madam, both are bad! I am, ofc, exaggerating somewhat, but there’s a definite gaslighting component here and I just want to tell everyone involved that gaslighting is a shitty power move and ppl who do that are awful, no matter how big or small the gas lamps involved!

      Oh gosh, I had so many feelings about this book. I really do hope the author keeps moving forward in her emotional growth, because I am genuinely worried that there is a lot of unprocessed trauma peeking out through the pages here.

      1. I guess you’ll learn more from the sequel?

        And yes, a definite yikes feeling when you get the impression that authors are telling you things that they may not even know about themselves.

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