Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Summary: An isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin has no reason not to accept. Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re in.
Genre: thriller, mystery
Rating: 2/5 stars

Have you ever read something that, from the very beginning, you know is going to be an absolute disaster, but you have such a fun time being annoyed with it and ripping it apart that you wind up flying through it? Every plot device makes you roll your eyes and audibly groan. You want to reach through the pages and smack the characters for their sheer stupidity. This is that book for me. I’ll be honest: I straight up hate-read this book.

I picked this book up on a whim, because books were buy-one-get-one and I was shopping in a hurry. It’s a thriller with a high body count set in a snowy hotel with a mysterious past. Plus it was part of Reese’s Book Club. I’m slowly learning Reese and I have polar opposite ideas of what constitutes a good book, since this is the second time I’ve been disappointed in something she’s suggested (looking at you, Little Fires Everywhere).

This review will absolutely, 100% be spoiler filled, so feel free to skip if you still want to read!

I want to start with the good, but honestly there isn’t much here. I loved the idea of an old asylum being converted into a hotel, but I felt extremely let down by how it fit into the story. There’s one side character whose relative was a patient at the asylum, but it really only serves as a red herring. The side character is involved in the killings, kind of, despite it making absolutely zero sense that she would be, and again, it has less to do with her getting revenge for her aunt than it does for everyone to think she’s the killer.

I was also hoping for generally creepier vibes, which I think easily could have been done had this been written better. The killer uses gas masks that were used by doctors at the asylum, but gas masks aren’t exactly intimidating. The killer leaves bracelets that were put on patients at the asylum, but again, not really scary. None of the rooms are haunted, and there are no ghosts. Just a lot of snow (boring) and about four rooms that are showcased throughout the book (also boring). I wanted to be completely sucked into this book, and everyone who keeps calling it “atmospheric” is lying, because it absolutely isn’t. Sure, there’s an avalanche that prevents the police from coming to the hotel, and there’s a semi-high body count in this book, but it still managed to be an absolute snooze-fest.

Aside from the atmosphere being incredibly lacking and there being zero spooky things, the characters are insufferable. I originally thought I would enjoy Elin, a police detective taking a leave of absence after an especially grueling case. Obviously she was going to help solve the murder mystery at the hotel during her stay, and I hoped that would help improve her character, that she’d be someone I felt empathy for and grew to respect. Except she was incredibly stupid. She made so many dumb decisions during her investigation that I didn’t feel bad for her when she got hurt because she blindly went alone somewhere. She was constantly wandering off on her own, never communicating with anyone else about what was going on or where she was going (but then she would spill all of her information to the most random side character who turned out to be part of the killings??), and went against police protocol and used her detective skills in a country where she had zero jurisdiction. At one point she was communicating with the police and decided they wouldn’t be happy with the choices she was making, so she just…stops communicating with them and it’s never brought up again?

There’s a super tragic backstory with Elin where she believes her brother killed their younger brother (or at least let him drown in front of him), so she still grieves for her younger brother while simultaneously hating her older brother. There’s a plot twist here that wasn’t any kind of surprise, and it made me question why the subplot was even part of the story. Maybe to give Elin more depth, but it didn’t tie into the story whatsoever and there was a lot of wasted time focusing on that history. But hey, at least it got resolved and made sense, unlike the rest of the story.

Which brings me to the reveal of the killer. After being thrown around numerous times, we finally learn that Cecile, a manager and the sister of the owner of the hotel, was the killer. Her explanation is that she was raped as a teenager, which is why she murdered her rapist. She killed others who were either trying to cover up for her rapist or who essentially got in her way. She found out about the history of the asylum and wanted to bring publicity to that, because she thought the female patients were abused just as horribly as she was.

And here’s my problem with this. Rape is a legitimate, horrifying thing that happens all too often. But while it works well in other books as a plot point, here it just felt like a cheap ploy. After finding out that Cecile murdered a bunch of people she knew, coworkers and friends, I’m supposed to feel bad for her because she became pregnant from her rapist, and the abortion she had ruined her chances of ever having children. But when the story is set up and executed this way, I absolutely do not feel bad for her.

I especially do not feel bad for her because her grand plan was to kill some people so the press caught on, and she would use that to “tell her story” and exploit what happened at the asylum at the same time. Out of nowhere, Cecile decided she wanted to bring attention to the patients at the asylum, but first she had to kill some people. This is so messy that I honestly cannot believe the author decided to run with it.

There are an insane amount of plot holes, subplots that are never touched on again or left me with way too many questions (one of Elin’s friends stalks her around the hotel and pushes her into a pool, and we never find out why, etc.). This story is a disaster from start to finish, and the worst part is the epilogue, which shows Elin finally leaving the hotel after the avalanche is cleared. The twist is that an unknown person is following and watching her, but what does this even imply? That there’s a sequel coming? That they didn’t catch the right person? That a person from her past has been following her this entire time?

I have no idea, but I also will not be reading a sequel to find out.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

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