With motives and methods so convoluted it takes the antagonist ten entire pages to explain them to our detective, The Sanatorium is certainly not a mystery you’re going to crack on page two. The author, Sarah Pearce, is able to blend together misogyny, archaic medical treatment of TB patients, modernist architecture, abuse of the mentally ill, bribery, serial murder, and Swiss resort life in such a way that this reader came away nauseated. Oh, also modern approaches to depression and anxiety, plus sibling rivalry and repressed memories. One imagines Pearce choosing keywords for her book.
“Which ones would you like?”
Pearce: “Um, all of them, obviously.”
In a typical mystery/thriller fashion, our detective must move from likely suspect to likely suspect. The difficulty inherent in The Sanatorium, however, is the suspects become increasingly unlikely until we are left with a pair of murderers who’ve been given so little attention and motivation that their capture rings hollow. Let me get specific—and warning there are spoilers ahead:
- The killings are a two-woman job. That’s right, lady serial killers, so you know their motives must be big.
- The primary killer is reeling from a date-rape. This attack, by her brother’s friend, leads her to bind, torture, and murder a series of uninvolved young women. Wait, what? I can’t have written that correctly. Let me check…nope, that’s right.
- The secondary killer is all in it for revenge. Namely, she seeks to avenge her great-grandmother’s grisly…wait, great-grandmother? I don’t even know my great-grandmother’s name! The idea that someone would know what happened to their great-grandmother and then take any action whatsoever is far-fetched. That the distant trauma would turn them homicidal is laughable.
Then comes the epilogue. There we learn of a super-secret character lurching around the sanatorium this entire time, watching our detective and intervening when necessary. Either Pearce is covering her bases and tying up inconsistencies or she’s planning a sequel. Let’s hope it isn’t the latter.
I made the colossal mistake of not reading reviews beforehand. I should’ve checked Kirkus Review, at least. Their pithy verdict says it all: “Oh, dear.”