I’ve been a little late to the party reading this thriller set in the Swiss Alps. Now I have, I can see why other bloggers have enjoyed it so much.It left me feeling chilled and genuinely claustrophobic. Elin’s brother Isaac invites her to celebrate his engagement to girlfriend Laure at a luxury hotel in Switzerland. The newly renovated hotel is Laure’s workplace and has a complicated history. An architectural triumph for the owner Lucas, the hotel was once a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis. Locals objected strongly to the project due to its position and liability to become cut off by avalanches, but there was also some disquiet about its history and the appropriateness of its new use. Elin and Isaac have a strained relationship, dating back to the accidental death of their little brother when they were children. However, she has been looking forward to trying again with Isaac and is excited to show her architect boyfriend Will around the hotel. Will is looking forward to relaxing with Elin after a tough year including her long sabbatical from work as a police officer. Elin is a detective, but isn’t currently working after an incident lead to her suffering flashbacks, panic attacks and other symptoms of PTSD. Can Will and Elin relax and enjoy their break, or will echoes of the past get in the way?
The author creates a edgy atmosphere immediately. We find out that Lucas’s business partner Daniel disappeared just as the hotel opened, thought to be swallowed up by an avalanche while taking his morning exercise. The remoteness is immediately apparent and I loved the way the author situates the hotel as a huge edifice almost doing battle with the surroundings. Guests can gaze directly out into the woodland and mountains. However, once the night falls and the lights are on, the hotel must be visible for miles. Guests can’t see out, but anyone could be looking in. The decor isn’t plush and ornate like a lot of hotels, but instead hints at the hotel’s past; almost like a luxury monk’s cell. There is nothing superfluous or showy about the bedrooms. There are also little glass display boxes where artefacts from the hotel’s archive are put on show. Elin doesn’t know whether they honour the past in a respectful way or whether they’re distasteful. There’s a real sense of the cold from outside, but also in the hotel’s decor. There’s nothing cozy or welcoming to offset the harsh weather.
It’s not just the venue that has a complicated relationship with the past. This whole visit is shrouded in secrets. Elin hasn’t told her brother that she’s taking a break from the police force. She also hasn’t told her partner Will about her previous friendship with Laure. Although it soon becomes clear that she’s not the only one keeping secrets. Her silence on certain subjects made me doubt her as a narrator creating an edgy reading experience. The venue seems to have tension built into its very foundations and I sensed something evil had happened there. Whatever had happened left an energy that rubbed off on the staff and guests. The author builds on the claustrophobic theme, by layering the imagery throughout the narrative. There is the history of patients literally struggling to breathe within these walls. Then there are Elin’s panic attacks, intensified by the scene where she is pushed into the plunge pool at the spa and struggles to force her way back to the surface. In flashbacks we learn of the tragic day at the beach when Isaac and Elin’s brother died, it’s always there simmering in the background and even Elin doesn’t seem to know the truth of what happened. There’s also the remote location, and the constant threat of avalanche. The author allows these feelings to build towards moments then describes moments of pure terror as an unknown assailant attacks, wearing a black rubber gas mask that makes a strange sucking and whistling noise. There were moments where I literally had to close the book and have a break with a cuppa!
There are a series of questions within the book, so there are a series of answers we’re chasing towards the end of the novel. Will we discover the truth of what happened when the hotel was Sanatorium du Plumachit? Will we find out what truly happened on the beach between Elin and her brothers? Who is behind the attacks at the hotel and what is their motive? The author has created a mystery that’s like a set of Russian dolls, moving from the present back to past events that still have a devastating hold on the here and now. The strange souvenirs left by the killer in glass boxes, are just like the exhibits from the archive, so there must be a link. I read the last few chapters in one go, because I simply had to know what was going on. There was a definite disregard for the next day that night as I was up till 3am racing through the revelations. I thought this was a brilliant thriller, full of atmosphere and with some genuine scares along the way. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it very highly.
Meet The Author
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. You can find Sarah on Twitter @SarahVPearse and Instagram @sarahpearseauthor