The Sanatorium

Sarah Pearse's scenic thriller The Sanatorium is set in a tuberculosis sanatorium turned five-star hotel in the Swiss Alps resort of Crans-Montana. Thanks to Pearse's descriptive powers and taste for the macabre, her debut will give readers the impression of looking through a design magazine guest edited by Vincent Price.

Elin Warner and her boyfriend, Will, are at Le Sommet for an engagement party for Elin's brother, Isaac, and Elin's childhood friend Laure, who works at the newly opened hotel. Will, an architect, is smitten with the place, whose decor includes glass cases displaying medical artifacts from the former sanatorium. Elin isn't sold: "This juxtaposition... it's chilling. Institution butting up against beauty." Her uneasiness grows when Isaac tells her that the hotel's principal architect went missing several years earlier, and her misgivings are flat-out validated the next morning, when Isaac announces that Laure has vanished. Elin, a British police detective on leave following a traumatic case, gets sleuthing--something made all the more difficult when a snowstorm traps everyone at the hotel.

When it's not calling to mind Architectural Digest, The Sanatorium can read like an issue of Psychology Today. Pearse's characters doggedly explore the interpersonal dynamics that she has constructed for them, especially a long-unresolved issue between Elin and Isaac. There's also the anguishing matter of whether the panic-attack-prone Elin should return to her job. The novel's psychologically focused passages can be dense, but readers coming out the other side will savor the intricate plotting, idiosyncratic set dressing and snow-covered suspense. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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