Audiobook Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Penguin Audio (February 2, 2021)

Length: 11 hrs and 58 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden

In general, I don’t think I demand a lot from thrillers. All I want is a storyline that can keep my attention—preferably the whole way through. However, this was unfortunately not what I got from The Sanatorium. The book had its high points, but sad to say, on the whole it did not live up to my expectations.

The story follows former detective Elin Warner, who has just arrived at an isolated hotel situated in the Swiss Alps with her boyfriend Will. Still recovering from a traumatic incident during the last case she worked, the last thing Elin wanted to do was to travel so far, but her brother Isaac had just gotten engaged and she and Will were supposed to meet him and his fiancée to celebrate.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Elin and Isaac are not on the best of terms. Many years ago, their younger brother Sam drowned in what everyone said was a tragic accident, but the family never recovered from the loss. Worse, Elin suspects that Isaac may have had something to do with Sam’s death. This getaway was supposed to be her and Will’s chance to grow closer and decide the next step of their relationship, but instead, Elin is determined to finally force the truth out of Isaac about what really happened to Sam.

Before Elin can get far in her quest though, something terrible happens. Isaac’s fiancée Laure goes missing, sending Elin into detective mode. As a storm rolls in, cutting the hotel off from any help, the claustrophobia grows, and panic begins to set in among the staff. Elin’s first instinct is to suspect her brother, whom she still does not trust, but he appears to be just as distraught as everyone else. And then the first body is found…

Ah, the mystery thriller set in a snowbound setting, one of my favorite genre tropes! I had such high hopes for The Sanatorium, so to say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I mean, this wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t great either. Even from the start, the story struggled to sink its hooks into me. Elin was annoyingly two-dimensional and single-minded to point of recklessness, yet she seemed to be the only person with any agency among this cast of do-nothings, and this I found more exasperating than comforting.

Also, I hate to say it, but the plot suffered because two separate story threads were constantly fighting to dominate the reader’s attention, and in the end they both felt contrived. Elin’s suspicion of Isaac and the possible role he played in Sam’s death all those years ago was an interesting idea, but seriously, just how much was I supposed to care while people were literally being murdered left and right? You’d think the protagonist would come to her senses and realize there’s a better time and place to obsess about confronting her brother and resolving all these age-old hang-ups—you know, preferably when there’s not a crazed psychopath on the loose—but hey, that’s Elin for ya.

There was also a fair bit of repetition. I wouldn’t have minded the slow build-up so much if we didn’t always have to go through this cycle of Elin doubting herself, slowly gaining more confidence, then having something bad happen which would send her straight back to square one. It’s a shame because there are good ideas her, not to mention all the ingredients to an awesome locked room mystery, but between being jerked around by the plot and getting the urge to scream at the protagonist every time she did something frustrating, I just couldn’t fully appreciate it. Of course, I could also go into how underwhelmed I was by the ending, but given everything else I found underwhelming, that’s probably a moot point by now.

Still, to the author’s credit, she nailed the atmosphere perfectly. Since it was the former-sanatorium-turned-luxury-resort-spa setting that drew me to this novel in the first place, I don’t completely regret picking it up. It’s definitely worth a look if you enjoy wintry thrillers, especially the sort with murderers and stranded guests trapped in creepy, snowed-in hotels. That said, other books have done it better, and if you’re an avid reader of the genre, this one has areas you may find lacking.

16 Comments on “Audiobook Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse”

  1. Oh I’ve been wondering about this one so when I saw you were reviewing it I was like cool! 🙂 But dang it I’m bummed it’s only a 2.5. Haha . I’ve seen mixed reviews other places though so not totally surprised, sadly. And I had to laugh at the plot device of storm rolling in. that never happens, right??? 🙂 I do love snowbound settings, but ergh the plot threads competing might irk me too.

    The setting does sound deliciously creepy at least!!!!!

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    • I was so bummed too, because I love wintry thrillers! I’ve recently read a couple great ones though, so this book as doubly disadvantaged because I couldn’t help but compare. I don’t mind the cheesy tropes but at least the story could have been better! Oh well, yes at least the setting was good! 😀

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  2. Too bad, the description did sound promising and the cover had that claustrophobic snowed in feel. I don’t consider myself all that well read in the thriller genre, but I do enjoy it and would prefer when possible to pick up the better ones, so I appreciate your thougths on some of them.

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  3. It does sound good on paper, but I can spot a bunch of elements I’d probably have issues with too, like all the repetition, so I’m glad I’m not reading this one.

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  4. Oh, I had such high hopes for this one! There was something, in the synopsis, that whispered “Overlook Hotel…” to me – and from your review it seems to have found the right vibes in this respect – but I think that the two-dimensional characterization you mentioned would offset the well-crafted background in a major way…

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  5. Ha dang Mogsy! I am so sorry! This one is everywhere on IG right now so I had hoped it would be better!

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  6. It’s such a shame with this book. There were some really good elements and it would have been so much more gripping if the author hadn’t been trying to fit in all the personal history threads – they just didn’t feel necessary and they weakened the tension. Then the ending – was kind of the final nail in the coffin. I mean, on the face of it this was an easy enough read and I didn’t hate it but it could have been so much better and I remain confused about the ending.
    Lynn 😀

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    • Agreed! I didn’t mind knowing more about the character’s past and the trouble and suspicions she was having with her brother. But it just seemed to TRIVIAL when a mystery murderer was running around killing people. It felt like no one really cared!

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  7. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup: 03/20/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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