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by Sarah Pearse
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, July 2022
368 pages
ISBN: 059348942X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

After her first novel, THE SANATORIUM, there was no doubt but that Pearse can write amazingly compelling scenes of storms and destruction, along with an eerie subplot. She has proven this again in THE RETREAT. This is one of the rare cases, however, when having read the first detracts from the second. Pearse seems to be adhering to a bit of a formula – an isolated closed room sort of plot set in a newly opened resort and including a gothic twist.

That said, she sure can write a page-turner and entering the world of either of the books will leave the reader completely wrung out. In THE RETREAT, the isolated setting is a new eco-retreat on an island off the coast of England. A family of adults is having a comped reunion there, based on the social media status of one of their members. A death of one of the family occurs, and Elin, the main character of THE SANATORIUM, suppresses her insecurities about returning to duty to investigate. As threats escalate, more guests are found dead, and tales of horrific events at an old school on the site add a creepy element to the investigation.

There is a strong psychological component to this book, and Pearse's skill with characterization supports that. We feel Elin's self-doubt and anxiety during the investigation and are immersed in her relationships. Her new partner is a good balance for her, providing stability and sensitivity at the same time. Her boyfriend, the architect who designed the retreat, is unsupportive, but has his reasons. The people in the book are complex enough to seem real.

Pearse transports the reader to the island and the retreat, and the descriptions of the landscape add to the ominous tone of much of the book. The aforementioned storm is so powerfully described that it is nearly impossible to put the book down during the extended scene at the end of the book. However…

Suspension of disbelief is absolutely necessary for this book. The physical feats that Elin manages in order to bring the plot to conclusion are well-nigh impossible. She rises from near death to bring the villain to justice more than once, each time feeling a rush of adrenaline that somehow makes her superhuman. In the moment, as I was reading, I was willing to forgive this because of the high level of tension I was experiencing. In retrospect, I'm not so sure. Nonetheless, the book kept me up at night reading, inadvisably given its pace and content. I hope that in future books, Pearse is able to diverge from her formula and give us more believable plots without sacrificing the intensity of her writing.

§ Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, September 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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