It’s mid-afternoon on a lovely winter day. This is the last full week of January, and it’s hard for me to believe that we’re nearly half-way through winter already. After a long walk earlier today, I’m settled in with a steaming cup of chai, a slice of freshly baked Date Bread and a delicious Date Bar to write what will be a very short post.
I finished my book club book last week, The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. Since we are meeting tomorrow night to discuss it, I don’t want to say too much about it here, but I’ll give a quick summary. During a leave of absence from her job as a detective with a UK police force, Elin and her boyfriend Will accept an invitation from her brother to visit the newly opened Le Sommet, an exclusive hotel in the Swiss Alps. The location is remote, and the history of the building a bit scary: it used to be a sanatorium where TB patients were sent for treatment and rest. The renovation and reopening as a five-star hotel has been met with plenty of negative publicity, so when staff and guests start to go missing, those who opposed the project are the first to be considered. But could there be more to it than that? Could it be linked somehow to the history of the place? Or is it something to do with the individuals, the owner, staff, or guests? What makes matters worse is that the staff and guests are trapped at the hotel due to a major storm and so no Swiss police can come to help solve this mystery. When more bodies turn up, it is up to Elin, with no resources and no one to work with, to try to uncover the truth and find the killer before more people are murdered. Sounds like a great premise, right? When I first started reading this novel, I thought for sure I’d read it before. I recognized these familiar elements in this book: the funicular that brought everyone up to the remote location, the glass walls that can be both breath-taking and claustrophobic, the inevitable snow storm that traps everyone at the hotel. But once I got further into it, I realized that it just resembled many others of this type that I’d read before. I found that the main character, Elin, was annoyingly wishy-washy about everything, including her relationship with Will, at the beginning, but seemed to “come alive” once her services as a detective were required. It certainly picked up around half-way through, and while it was not my favourite “locked-room” mystery, the ending was certainly a surprise. I’m curious to see what my book club members think about this book, which I believe is the first in a series.
And I read a short novel by British mystery writer Minette Walters called The Cellar. I was happy to try a new novel by this superb writer of complex psychological mysteries, but I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. Muna is a fourteen year old girl living in the cellar of the Songoli family home. She was taken from an African orphanage when she was eight by a woman claiming to be her aunt and whisked away to this new home in England, where she is treated as a slave, whore and punching bag by various members of the family. When ten-year-old Abiola Songoli goes missing, Muna is brought upstairs and told to pretend to be their feeble-minded daughter when asked any questions by the UK detectives. Having never learned to read or write and rarely using the power of speech, Muna is nonetheless surprisingly clever, much more clever than her masters could have ever conceived. What follows are details of Muna’s retribution for all that has been done to her and the inability of the police or neighbours to understand what is truly happening. I’m not sure what Walters was trying to tell us by writing this novel. Was it a spotlight on the consequences of abuse, the naïveté of Scotland Yard detectives, or the willingness of society to turn a blind eye to abuse in their midst? Or was it simply an exploration into the actions and motives of one young woman in response to her horrific surroundings? I think what disturbed me the most about this short novel was that I read it directly after listening to a TED Talk about the dangers of "the single story" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en). Whatever it was, it certainly did not hold the same level of complex psychological exploration that her other books had, although it could have been fleshed out to become a really great full-length novel with a fuller storyline and more character development. As it is, I’m not sure I’m glad I read it, but it’s making me want to reread her earlier books, as I believe she really is the “Queen of British psychological mysteries”. At least is was short!
That’s all for today. Take care, stay warm, and keep reading!Bye for now…