Sarah Pearse

ON MY SHELF . . . March 2022

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TALL BONES by Anna Bailey

Tall BonesWhatever other qualities the book may have, the name of the town in which it is set gets first prize for the most sinister sounding location – Whistling Ridge. You just know that this is a town with dark secrets and simmering tensions that have festered for generations. Throw in a charismatic hellfire preacher who seems to have the town in his thrall, a girl who inexplicably disappeared into the woods, and a mysterious outsider who fascinates the young folk but arouses deep resentment in their parents – and you have a crackerjack thriller. Published by Doubleday, Tall Bones is out on 1st April.


WHWKA husband disappears, leaving only a one word scribbled note that says “Sorry“. As the police assume Oscar has committed suicide and put the case at the back of the file drawer, wife Beth is determined to find out the truth and, to re-use an old metaphor, when people turn over stones, they shouldn’t be dismayed at what they see scurrying about underneath. Expect elements of deceit, revenge and betrayal – with many a plot twist.  This is a Vintage publication, and is available now in audiobook, Kindle and paperback.

THE FATAL OATH by Michael L Lewis

TFOSchool stories, at least those written for younger readers, were once ‘a thing’ but something of a rarity these days. This book, the third in a series, is aimed at adult readers, and is set in 1957 within a boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire, and is centred on a Jewish teenager who is made to feel an outcast by senior boys who feel he is not “one of us“. His fate, and that of his friend, another ‘outsider’ is in the hands of a powerful clan of senior pupils who bully even the ineffectual school leadership team. The Fatal Oath will be available on 28th of March and is published by The Book Guild.

THE RETREAT by Sarah Pearse

RetreatSarah Pearse’s previous (and debut) novel The Sanatorium (click for review) was a huge commercial and critical success and now she returns with another psychological thriller based on the same theme – that of isolation, secrets, and mysterious death. There’s more than a touch of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels (choose the title you prefer!) here, as a group of people are stranded on an island retreat as a destructive storm prevents anyone leaving or arriving. It’s a case of “as soon as the weather clears..” but much can (and does) happen in the meantime! Published by Bantam Press, this will be available in July.

THE PEOPLE OPPOSITE by Georges Simenon

PeoplePenguin are publishing new translations of Simenon’s  stories. I’ve reviewed The Little Man From Archangel and Death Threats & Other Stories. This is another non-Maigret story, set in pre-war Russia, and tells the tale of Adil Bey, a lonely Turkish diplomat sent as consul to a dilapidated port on the Black Sea. He is viewed with suspicion by the locals, and when he develops a relationship with his Russian secretary, he soon learns that living in Stalin’s Russia as an outsider has many pitfalls. Translated by Sian Reynolds, this is a Penguin Classic, and is available now.

THE SANATORIUM . . . Between the covers

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The Sanitorium cver026Elin Warner is an English police officer. We meet her and boyfriend Will as they ride in an over-crowded car on a funicular railway. They are travelling to Le Sommet, a luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps, where Erin’s brother Isaac and his girlfriend Laure are about to celebrate their engagement. We soon learn a few background details. Elin has been on sick leave for many months, after a serious incident. Her mother has just died of cancer, and she and Isaac have been estranged for many years.

Le Sommet has a distinctive history, as it is a former sanatorium, where tuberculosis victims were sent in pre-vaccine days in the hope that the clean mountain air would ease their suffering. Its transformation into a five star holiday destination was masterminded by a prestigious firm of Swiss architects, one of whom mysteriously disappeared at the site in the early days of the project. No trace of him has ever been found.

Pretty much as soon as Elin and Will arrive, a fierce snow storm cuts off Le Sommet from the rest of the world, and they wake after their first night in the hotel to the news that Laure has disappeared.

After a few chapters, I pictured Le Sommet as a rather diabolical cross between The Overlook Hotel where Jack and Wendy Torrance spent such an eventful winter (“Here comes Johnny….!“) and the Hotel California (“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…“)

Unlike the residents of the hotel, we know that there is someone out there, a killer who has an agenda. Revenge, maybe? Or perhaps a psycho with neither rhyme nor reason, other than their insanity?

There is another undertow tugging at us as we move through the chapters, and it is Elin’s suspicion that Isaac had something to do with the death of her younger brother Sam years earlier. The tragedy was deemed to be accidental, but what if the unthinkable had happened, and it was a case of fraternal jealousy taken a step too far?

Sarah PearseWhen the body count starts to rise, Elin’s professional training kicks in and, after phoning the local police for permission, she takes charge of the investigation. With no access to forensic support or police databases, she has to make do with what she has – basically her own instincts as a copper. She suspects that whatever is motivating the killer lies in the history of the hotel. Sarah Pearse (right) exploits the conventions of the locked-down/cut-off-from-the-outside-world thriller for all she is worth, and we have hidden passage ways, disused tunnels, murderers in sinister masks, and the general sense that most of the key figures in the plot are hiding secrets of one sort or another.

This is a convincing debut novel, and the author doesn’t give us a moment’s downtime in terms of tension. If there is such a thing as Anxiety Porn, then The Sanatorium is a fine example of the genre. Sarah Pearse also leaves us with an Epilogue which takes one of the assumptions made by Elin – and us readers – and turns it on its head.

The novel came out as a Kindle on 4th February (Transworld Digital) and will be available as a Bantam Press hardback from 18th February. You can find out more about the author by clicking this link.

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