Fresh Blood

Name: Sarah Pearse

Title of Book: The Sanatorium

'‘The Sanatorium’ is a highly accomplished book, particularly for a first novel.'

A five star hotel, full of up to the minute luxury and stunning design features, has been created from the shell of an old sanatorium, originally designed to treat patients suffering from tuberculosis. The design of the new hotel incorporates some of the extraordinary artefacts that were then used. The hotel, now named Le Sommet, is the venue for the engagement party of Isaac and Laure. Attending reluctantly is Isaac’s sister, Elin Warner and her partner, Will. Elin is estranged from her brother because of something that happened in their childhood, but exactly what only emerges slowly as the story progresses.

The morning after Elin and Will arrive, Laure goes missing. At the same time a frightening storm is developing in the mountains and avalanches are threatened. All the guests are advised to leave and seek safety in the valley, but not everyone goes. The remaining few are confronted with more scary happenings until finally it emerges that all the mysterious events trace back to the original history of the sanatorium.

The setting of this story is perfect for a creepy suspense thriller. ‘The Sanatorium’ is a highly accomplished book, particularly for a first novel. Layers of intrigue and suspense just keep being revealed. Nothing is as it first appears. Childhood trauma influences the lives of so many of the characters, especially the main protagonist, Elin. As the story moves along at a cracking pace, each works out a solution in their own way. The way that the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is built up is very cleverly handled. Cold beauty with an undercurrent of menace predominates.

Elin is a complicated character and has personal issues. She can be rash and her emotions swing like a pendulum. Although I wanted to will Elin on, she can be difficult to empathise with, but I ask you to persevere, as there is light for Elin at the end of that very long tunnel.

The subtle way in which each secret is revealed, not making the situation clearer, but only providing more questions to be answered, is masterfully contrived. Right up to the end as even the last chapter is spooky and cleverly lays the foundations of Elin’s next nightmare. First, you have ‘The Sanatorium’ to enjoy and I am not sure I’d recommend reading it on your own. Definitely one to savour with a hot chocolate and a raging fire, just to keep all that Swiss mountainous snow at bay!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘The Sanatorium’ tells of a new hotel high in the Swiss Alps which used to be a hospital for people with T.B. You have a long association with that part of the world. Have you stayed in such an isolated hotel when you were living in the Alps? Did you think that these remote hotels would make the perfect backstage for a murder?
I haven’t stayed in a hotel in such an isolated location and I’m not sure if I would… the introverted part of me would love the seclusion but I think my imagination would take over and it might all prove a bit too much! I have however, spent time in fairly remote hotels whilst on holiday – one of our favourite lunch spots in Crans Montana is a hotel that has been converted from cable car station, called Hotel Chetzeron. In the winter months, it’s often only accessible via ski or skiddoo. It is minimalist in style and provided a lot of inspiration for Le Sommet in the book. For me, a remote hotel is a perfect backstage for murder because I think that the innate friction and conflict that comes with placing a group of characters in an isolated, claustrophobic setting has a certain magic. The simple fact that there’s no escape and no magic bullet of anyone else coming in to help – rescue teams or police, means your characters, and in The Sanatorium’s case, a detective too, are pushed to their physical and emotional limits which is really fun as a writer to explore.
2) There is a sense of ‘The Shining’ meets ‘And Then There Were None’ when the snowstorm cuts off the hotel from the outside world. Was this deliberate to generate the same sense of being stranded and isolated as well as putting your own stamp on the proceedings? Having been through two lockdowns, do you feel that we as a race, especially in the 21stC, feel even more cut off from civilisation when we can’t use any of the technology we take for granted today?
I love the reference to both books and whilst I haven’t read ‘The Shining’, I have most definitely been inspired by Agatha Christie’s locked room settings and the fact she places her detective characters in exotic, but very tricky circumstances! I really do think we have become so used to technology as a means of communication that if we are cut off from it, it would induce a certain sense of panic and only add to the tension and sense of isolation we would feel in such a circumstance.
3) Elin Warner is a complex character, as is her brother, Isaac. There is a definite strained family dynamic going on between the two of them. This, alongside Elin’s negative reaction to the atmosphere of the hotel itself, leads her to question her own judgement. I did want to cheer Elin on, but she wasn’t an easy person to warm to and have empathy with. Was this deliberate?
Yes, very much so. Elin is a complex character and completely and unashamedly herself and that includes traits which people might seem as ‘cold’ or ‘intense.’ She’s a strong woman, but troubled by both a past case that haunts her and a family tragedy. Her swirling emotions around these events mean she’s constantly being judged by the people around her, but she breaks the mould by refusing to do what’s expected and that’s what I love about her.

I really wanted her to be a female detective who doesn’t have it all together, someone who has the same fears and anxieties as people do in real life and isn’t afraid to listen to and show her emotions. She’s very open as a narrator and as a detective, telling the reader and the characters around her exactly how she is feeling. I’ve tried to show her working through these complex emotions and anxieties as well as exploring how the characters around her, such as Will and Lucas, react to this as she goes about her work. I was keen to show this visible struggle and journey back to confidence as a strength, not the weakness that it’s often perceived to be.

I’m sometimes frustrated reading other novels featuring female detectives when they’re given what are traditionally seen as more masculine traits and attributes in order to fit into what is “expected” from a detective within the genre. I wanted to show Elin in a very raw state, but still to be able to do her job despite the real possibility of judgment by both the characters in the novel and readers alike.

I wanted to write a novel that was a chilling thriller but also about a woman who has to face down her past and embrace her fears and anxieties in order to survive and progress—something I think we all struggle with in our own way and during our own journeys through life.
4) I flew through ‘The Sanatorium’ due to the short, sharp chapters. For me, it gave the story that immediacy and amazing pace. Do you prefer to write in short chapters as if writing a scene for the screen?
Thank you - I really do. Not only are short chapters something I enjoy when I’m reading a thriller, but I also like it from a writing perspective. For me as an author, it provides great momentum to my writing, a natural break and a feeling of having achieved a goal during the writing and editing process. Knowing I have finished editing a chapter is a great feeling and more easily achievable when they are short!
5) What can we expect next from Sarah Pearse?
My next book, ‘The Retreat’, also featuring Elin, will be out in March 2022. It’s another dark and creepy story but in a very different location. I think Elin will be relieved to be away from the snow…
6) What bit of advice would you give to anyone starting out writing their debut?
To persevere and to not focus on the detail but the bigger picture – getting the book written in the first place! The biggest thing I’ve learnt while writing novels is to keep the momentum going. I think there is a tendency when writing anything to edit and revise as you go but for me, I’ve found that this slows the flow and can be a barrier to actually getting the work completed. I now just keep writing and move on chapter by chapter, accepting that there will be certain scenes or paragraphs that need more work but knowing that I can come back and work on them in the next draft (and the next!).
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I certainly am! So hard to choose just three, but my favourites include:

The Snowman - Jo Nesbo

The Dry - Jane Harper

and of course, And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie!