The Sanatorium information:
Written by Sarah Pearse
Penguin Books Paperback
Other Information that writers and/or readers may find interesting:
Is this an author’s Debut novel? Yes.
Author’s Agent: Charlotte Seymour
Point-of-View and Tense: Third person for all character insights. Told in present tense.
The Sanatorium Premise
Elin, a traumatized police officer-on-leave, is invited to her brother’s engagement party at a Sanatorium, turned Hotel. Set high in the Alps.
Laure, the brother’s fiancée, goes missing. A massive storm looms. Another person goes missing. And, then, they are cut off from help and unable to descend the mountain.
My Personal Opinions
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Sanitary Review of The Sanatorium (No Spoilers Section)
I rated this 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I had a lot of high hopes for this novel. Desolate places – check. Cut off from help – check. A murderer on the loose – check. The back of the book and the cover art gave me all the creepy, terrified feels I could ask for in a novel. There’s even the chance of paranormal activity. Just for the record, there is no ghostly shenanigans. But before reading, the possibility was there.
The writing reminds me of a TikTok snippet: Tell me you took an MFA course without telling me you took an MFA course.
We get endless descriptions. Some make sense, others don’t. Don’t get me wrong, Sarah can write. She has the ability to give you visuals. Until she gets too descriptive. Which pulls us out of the moments where we want to get sucked in and absorbed. Where we want to flip the pages, unable to tear our eyes away. But then the descriptions appear and slow that desire. The action moments are muted. We don’t feel the fear.
The prologue is phenomenal. I love that prologue.
And sometimes we get descriptions that we just can’t figure out. Granted it might just be me. But you tell me what this light fixture looks like:
“The white pendants dangling from the ceiling remind Elin of a hangman’s noose.
The wires are so long they traverse for several yards, cable hanging slack in the middle before descending farther on. The pendant itself is nothing more than a violent spasm of wire forming an intricate loop.”
A pendant light is usually a light fixture at the end of a wire, a cable, a pole. And it’s usually one light per cable. If this light is slack, are we talking about the cable hanging downward and then slacking? Is this cable running between the pendants? What is “violent spasm” are we talking about electricity issues? Is it shorting? I cannot picture this lighting piece to save my soul.
Unfortunately, the novel just didn’t do it for me. The first abduction is weird. I want to say there’s no lead in or set up. Which, granted, is the way abductions happen in real life. But for some reason in this novel, it just rings weird. I can’t put my finger on it.
The characters are all insipid idiots. I don’t care for any of them, which is not good for retaining my curiosity in regard to what may or may not happen to them.
Too much telling, not enough showing. For instance, Elin, the main character, tells us how eerie the show boxes are in the hotel. The hotel displayed items from the history of the hotel when it was a Sanatorium. For some people that’s creepy, for others it’s not, we love seeing history incorporated into the design. Most of Elin’s eerie feelings are just stuff she reports as eerie. Her perception. Since, Elin, is disturbed by almost everything from the get-go, it’s like hanging out with a Debbie-Downer. I don’t care anymore. Maybe if we’d seen dried blood on one of the tools in the display box, I’d feel a little creeped out.
The end of the novel was a drawn-out monologue to explain the who and why. Because the “who” didn’t really have much to do with the story, we had to have this convoluted explanation of why.
WARNING: Major Spoilers ahead. Turn back now or hold your peace.
The Sanatorium had so much going for it; a hotel with a checkered past tucked deep into the Swiss Alps, murder, mystery, possible avalanche, cut off from outside help. How could it be anything less than awesome?
Let me tell you how.
I have no complaints with the setting, except for in one scene where our main character is looking through photographs from nearly a hundred years prior and recognizes the location due to the trees and mountains. Interesting. Unless the mountain has a very distinct peak in that picture – which is not mentioned – we’re supposed to believe that the setting is the exact same. I look at pictures from thirty years ago and the differences make me pause, Even knowing that I took the picture and where I took the picture, the differences are amazing.
But outside of that, the setting is pretty darn awesome.
Elin wants answers from her brother regarding what happened to their younger brother when they were out collecting sealife (forgot exactly what they were doing). She is on leave from the police due to an incident involving a criminal and water. He tried to drown her.
We have Elin trying to solve the first murder and the disappearance of her brother’s fiancée. At the end of the book, we find out who did it (I won’t spoil that) but it’s a bit player, dug up and yanked out of left field. So we have to have a long explanation of why this was done. And the why just doesn’t work for me. It really doesn’t. Basically, this person is ticked off about how women were treated in the Sanatorium. And this person was hoping to get caught after their first murder. But then, despite wanting to get caught, doesn’t admit it. And kills mostly women. Because nothing screams “I’m angry at how women were treated,” than by mutilating and killing women.
A Few Other Annoyances in The Sanatorium
We have two bit part characters giving us information. The first person is the first abduction. Why set up her history and waste all that time, just to kill her off? In real life I want to know about the soul taken from our world. We should know them, honor them. But in a novel, that’s nearly 400 pages, no. Just no. you set us up and to invest in her and then she’s out.
The second character is drummed up solely to find the missing architect’s body. That’s his only purpose. We never heard or saw from this character beforehand and we don’t hear or see from him afterward.
Don’t throw in random people just to get information across. Just don’t. That whole thing could have been summed up by an employee passing along the information, that a cross-country skier found a body believed to be what’s-his-name. Done. Again, cutting out extraneous material would have helped. A little.
Oh, where to start? First, let’s go with the men. Basically, they are all of the same ilk. Every male is one-dimensional. Then again, the women are very much the same as well. There isn’t one character I liked.
But let’s focus on the most egregious character. Elin, a supposed police officer.
Elin, as we first meet her.
Our main character is so far in her own head, it’s popping out her rear end. EVERYTHING is stated as to be a concern or a mystery. We don’t get a chance to swallow what we’ve been served before something else is shoved down our throat.
“…Elin knows what he’s doing. He’s showing her that he stills knows her, can read her. He’s showing her who is in charge.”
Our Dear Policewoman has these thoughts about everyone. She just knows. Period. It doesn’t matter that it’s pure speculation, our Elin, just knows and we’re supposed to believe her. The lady who thought her older brother killed their younger brother. Turns out, the younger brother died in an accident and it was Elin who stood by and watched – not that she could have saved him. But Elin, just knows every man’s intentions by word choice, by dress, by looks, by movement.
She has to get off the funicular because she can’t handle it. Or maybe she just can’t handle how she judges everyone. EVERYONE! OMG, did I make this clear? This is the most judgmental character I’ve ever read.
Elin is Unsettled
Elin, “…fretted about every little thing.” “…Struggling to take it all in; Snow. The shimmering water.” Nothing has happened by the way, this is just typical Elin, everything overwhelming and disorienting. Upon entering their hotel room, “Instantly, she reacts: a bitter chill moving through her. Everything about this room jars, putting her nerves on edge.” We don’t know what’s so jarring. We’re just told that it is. No this room does emerge as a room of murder later in the novel. Elin is dramatic over everything.
I began to think that Elin was a patient in the Sanatorium, that’s what the plot had to be. But no. It would have made more sense.
I hated this character within the first 50 pages. But wait! It gets worse. Not only is she judgmental, I can’t suspend my disbelief on how she could have ever gotten to be a policewoman.
A look at Elin’s Ineptness
By page 66, I had written WTH?! in the margins more times than I care to admit.
Along with no one being able to look at anyone or look anywhere or do anything with their eyes without being judged by Elin, she’s completely inept as an officer. Let’s take a look at some of this ineptness.
NUMBER 1: Our detective is embarrassed at being caught staring. Elin is caught looking at a picture of Celeste swimming. That’s what’s she embarrassed about. I don’t know if the UK police don’t do that. But when a cop is working, they have no problem looking around, taking in information. That information may come into play later in an investigation.
NUMBER 2: Elin tells nearly every character, even those she is suspicious of, about the details of the case.
The First Dead Body
NUMBER 3: When we come across the first dead body, it is submerged in a pool. It has a mask over its head, the wrists are “tightly bound” together, and three fingers have been amputated.
You know what Elin thinks? Wait for it….. What did it mean? Some kind of game gone wrong? Something sexual? Cause apparently, weird sex acts involve cutting off fingers. WTH?!
It isn’t until she sees a sandbag used to weigh the body down in the water that she decides it was murder.
NUMBER 4: When an avalanche happens, she’s told no one can get up to them. It will take a few days. Oh yeah, there’s a major storm on the way which is why they had begun to evacuate the hotel. The last bus for the staff and the few remaining guest can’t leave and help can’t get to them.
Elin wants to know why they can’t clear the avalanche quicker. She’s told it wasn’t just snow, but it’s vegetation, rock, trees, as well. “It’s a monster.” That’s what they tell her.
After hearing that, she asks: “Why is it so hard to clear?” WTH?!
NUMBER 5: When they use the Find My iPhone app, Elin is told the little dot is in the spa area, near the generators. Elin goes to the spa area and searches the pools, the locker rooms, and then after thinking she has nowhere else to look, the maintenance rooms (aka where the generators are). Now, I’m no detective, and I know I don’t have the skills to be one, but even I would have started where I was told the location was.
And so many other reasons: Guesses wrong numerous time on who the killer. Assumes someone is the killer and asks that person to help her look.
I gave it two stars because I did like the setting. I love the initial description and the surrounding mountains. And Sarah can write. Sometimes less is needed, but she can do it. I think in a few more books she’ll find her groove.
Was it Enjoyable? Not as much as I’d like. It almost became comedic trying to find all the ways Elin was inept.
Would I recommend The Sanatorium? No.
Other Books I’d Read for an Isolated Area with Killers: No Exit by Taylor Adams, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall (it’s YA and paranormal, but quick and good) by Katie Alender, or The Guest List by Lucy Foley.