“An eerie, atmospheric novel that had me completely on the edge of my seat.” — Reese Witherspoon

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“It’s The Shining but with a full house.” — People

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Sarah Pearse’s debut, The Sanatorium (Pamela Dorman Books), is a page-turning thriller with complex characters and an unforgettable setting. The novel opens on a dark, snowy night with a masked figure and a missing person, and the pace doesn’t let up from there. Fair warning: Prepare to stay up late to finish it. 

Following her mother’s death and her own near-death experience in a botched attempt to catch a murderer, a shaken Elin Warner retreats from her job as a detective and her relationship with her boyfriend Will. She’s on the cusp of losing both when her estranged brother Isaac invites her to his engagement party at an old sanatorium turned luxury ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Shortly after Elin and Will arrive at the hotel, Isaac’s fiancee goes missing. When an avalanche traps them at the hotel and cuts them off from law enforcement help, Elin is forced to take on the role of police detective once again.

This gothic thriller is rife with plot twists and unreliable characters, leaving the reader unsure of whom to root for and whom to trust. At times, it seems that everyone is lying and everyone has motives and some of the characters are downright crazy. It will take all of Elin’s detective prowess to thread together the truth. Only Elin’s a bit distracted by trying to piece together chilling memories from childhood trauma, reconnect with her manipulative brother, and rekindle her relationship with Will. 

TRAPPED IN A SECLUDED, HAUNTING SETTING

Perhaps the most intriguing character in the novel is the hotel itself with its many layers of atmosphere. Le Sommet is described as a modern masterpiece, combining the sterile functionality of its former life as a hospital with luxury and glass walls showcasing panoramic views of the stark mountains that surround it. A budding architect, Will is impressed by the artistic vision of the hotel, but Elin finds the atmosphere cold and unsettling, especially the displays of artifacts from the sanatorium. 

Located in a secluded area of the Alps, the sanatorium once served as a hospital retreat for tuberculosis patients. While a retreat in the Alps might sound like a lovely recovery opportunity, the haunted feel of the place hints that there is more to the story than fresh air and rest. The utter isolation of the hotel adds yet another layer of tension. Finally, a snowstorm and a subsequent avalanche trap the characters in the resort with a serial killer, adding a blanket of claustrophobia to the picture. The setting of this novel will linger long after the final page, leaving readers craving a crowded Caribbean seashore.

The Sanatorium is the perfect choice for gothic mystery and thriller lovers who are fascinated by secret histories and intriguing characters. A great wintery escape!


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Photo: Rosie Parsons Photography

Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in Brand PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains in the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her novel. Sarah has always been drawn to the dark and creepy — remote spaces and abandoned places — so when she read an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area, she knew she’d found the spark of the idea for her debut novel, The Sanatorium. Her short fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines and has been shortlisted for several prizes.