Book Review of The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

I’m not going to lie – I picked up The Sanatorium because of its incredible cover and then read the blurb and knew it would be right up my street. They say don’t judge a book by its cover but I feel the publishers have done a fantastic job of creating the exact look and feel I imagined throughout the novel. It’s eery, creepy and filled with historical mystery.

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The Sanatorium book review
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The Sanatorium is the perfect “everyone meets at a new hotel and bad things start going down” novel. Fortuitously it happens when Ellen, a former detective is there at the hotel too and so you follow from her point of view as she goes through the nightmare of being stuck in a snowstorm inside a brand new hotel with a dark history.

The Sanatorium plot – 4/5

As I explained above, The Sanatorium is a story about a group of people who decide to meet at a brand new hotel that’s opened up for a weekend away high up in the mountains. Ellen arrives with her partner Will and they soon meet back up with Issac, Ellen’s brother who she’s not spoken to in a long while as they have a very troubled family history (and he’s a bit of a dick.)

Taking it back a bit though, the prologue before this sets up the novel like a classic 2000s horror film where before any of the main characters arrive, somebody already gets killed (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s literally the first five pages you’ll read.) This prologue sets up how the whole book essentially then plays out. It feels very much like a classic horror film – lots of things go wrong, people choose to go to places that don’t make sense and search out danger.

Overall I really enjoyed the first 80% of this book – I had no idea who the killer could be (I had some ideas but none were correct) and the tense moments and sudden shocks were really well executed by Pearse who you can tell took a huge influence from horror films. However, without spoiling too much, the actual killer disappointed me a little – there was no way I was going to work that out without knowing what they say is their motive towards the end. It’s something I find frustrating in these sort of books – where you wouldn’t be able to work out the killer because their motive isn’t revealed until the very end. Not a huge problem here as the rest of the novel is brilliant, just a sticking point for me that ruined the ending for me.

The Sanatorium characters – 3.5/5

Pearse has written some quite deep characters in The Sanatorium – they aren’t all one-dimensional, dull characters whom you’re not going to care about. Isaac, Ellen’s brother, as I mentioned earlier, is actually a big of a dick – he can’t let others win and seems unflappable until things start kicking off. We all know someone like this who can never let you see them get beaten or appear to not have the answer to everything.

Ellen herself has a dark past with her brother which is actually a really interesting section of the book that adds a second layer of depth to the character dynamics. Will, Ellen’s partner plays the fairly easygoing boyfriend, I’d say he’s the least interesting in this book – he’s essentially there to play devil’s advocate or to cheer Ellen up when she needs it.

Overall, Pearse does just enough to give these characters some life and make them interesting enough not to just be there as dolls to fill the roles of generic mystery characters.

The Sanatorium summary – 4/5

The Sanatorium is great – it’s a really tense and eery novel that I think almost any mystery reader will enjoy. It’s got a fantastic setting, described well by Pearse and has a storyline that is deeper than it needs to be to satisfy murder mystery fans.

The weak ending does let it down a tad but this is my personal preference and the fact that none of the characters stood out to be absolutely loveable. But as a debut novel, this is a very strong start, so it’s a 4/5 from me.

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