Hotel’s Secret History Leads to Danger in the Swiss Alps

Once a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis, Le Sommet is now a posh hotel in the Swiss Alps with soaring glass windows, minimalist interior and relics of its past, when patients were sent most likely to die. Beautiful, it’s also isolated — miles away from the nearest town and accessible only by helicopter or a winding mountain road.

Sarah Pearse. Photo credit Rosie Parsons Photography.

It’s not exactly the perfect place for Elin Warren to reconnect with her brother, Isaac, and his fiancé, Laure. Elin is dealing with a multitude of stresses. She is on leave from her job as a police detective, her boyfriend Will who is accompanying her is pressuring for a commitment, the human resources director wants a commitment from her to return to work, and, worst of all, she believes Isaac may have killed her young brother years ago in one of his murderous rages.

“The Sanatorium” is Sarah Pearse’s first novel and it’s a whopper — though a slight warning: reading it while the snow is falling outside your window just adds to the mounting dread. As avalanches and snowstorms make it impossible for help to arrive at Le Sommet, Elin races to solve the crime as one by one people, including her former best friend and Isaac’s fiancée are being brutally dispatched wearing treatment masks from when the place was a sanitarium. It calls for all of Elin’s strength, as she remains unsure and unsettled about her past and her future.

The secrets at Le Sommet are complex and many. Elin wonders who she can trust among the secret rooms high up in the building, almost face-to-face with the mountain walls inside a deep tunnel where Elin discovers a body and is almost locked underground with the corpse. And there is her own relationship with Will, whom she loves but feels she is losing because of her own uncertainties. Will she be able, she wonders, to overcome her overwhelming doubts about herself and move forward, or will she become the next victim of a vicious killer?

Pearse, who describes herself as an avid reader, moved to Switzerland in her early 20s and fell in love with the charming Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana and the mountains around it both of which became the setting for her novel.

“I’m always struck by the drama of the mountains,” she said in a Zoom call from her home in South Devon where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

That interest — as well as reading about the sanatoriums that existed before effective treaments tuberculosis existed, and it was thought that the clean, crisp mountain air, would help — form the plot of her novel.

“I read books about that time and there were photos of half-naked kids in the snow because they thought that would help heal their lungs,” Pearse said. “I also wanted to write a book about family dynamics.”

Reese Witherspoon, who selected “The Sanatorium” as a Reese’s Book Club Pick describes it as “An eerie, atmospheric novel that had me completely on the edge of my seat.”

This review previously ran in the Northwest Indiana Times: BOOKS: Former Alpine sanatorium provides setting for ‘eerie, atmospheric novel’ | Books & Literature | nwitimes.com

Moonflower Murders

          Even paradise can get dull for some.

Though Susan Ryeland thought she was ready to retire and leave London to live on a small Greek island and run the Polydorus Hotel with Andreas, her longtime boyfriend, she begins to wonder if it was such a smart move after all. The hotel, though charming, is a little ramshackle and Susan finds her days are filled with trying to make complaining guests happy, ensure the internet is working and the linens are getting changed, among  a long list of other chores. It certainly is less than the paradise she imagined.

          Ryeland is in this restless state when the Trehernes, an English couple who own the posh Branlow Hall, an inn on the Sussex coast, check into the Polydorus. They’ve traveled all this way to ask for Ryeland’s help. Eight years earlier, their daughter Cecily was married at Branlow Hall, the charming inn they own on the Suffolk coast. On that same day, a guest at the hall named Frank Parrish was murdered and their Romanian handyman confessed to his death and is now in prison for the crime. But Cecily, after reading “Magpie Murders,” a mystery novel written by Alan Conway before his death, became convinced she knew who had really murdered the man. Indeed, Conway knew Parrish and had even based one of his other novels on the murder. Cecily.

           The Trehernes believe that Ryeland, because she was Conway’s long-time publisher before his  murder (there are a lot of murders and a lot of twist and turns to keep track of so be prepared) and helped  who killed him would be the perfect person to find Cecily who has disappeared.

          They offer her 10,000 pounds stay at their posh inn, interview their employees who worked there when Parrish was murdered, and reread the novel Conway wrote about his death in hopes she’ll pinpoint whatever it was that made Cecily so sure the handyman wasn’t the killer.

          And here it gets even more complex. “Magpie Murders” was not only the name of Conway’s book but is also the title of the real novel written by New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz. In his latest, “Moonflower Murders,” he continues the saga of Ryeland, sending her once again on a mission to unravel a mystery.

          10,000 pounds and the chance to get away from the drudgery of the Polydorus are enough of an incentive for Ryeland who also loves a good mystery.

          “What you have in “Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders” is a book insides a book,” says Horowitz who was asked to write a sequel immediately after Magpie came out and is also working on the television script for Magpie. “In both the books you have novelist Alan Conway hiding the solution of a modern mystery in his novel set in the 1950s. Susan, Conway’s editor, has to find the solution using clues from his novels.”

          Yes, it is that complicated but both mysteries—which are both stand-alone novels—are fascinating reads.

Horowitz, the author of more than 40 books including two Sherlock Holmes novels commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate and the bestselling Alex Rider series for young adults which has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide,” says that “Moonflower Murders” is like getting two books in one.

          Horowitz doesn’t have any virtual book events coming up, but you can watch an interview with him about “Moonflower Murders” on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thH4vrG7tWI

This story appeared in the Northwest Times of Indiana.

Amateur detective hopes to make a difference

Lisa Gardner

No one believed Frankie Elkin when she said Lana Whitehorse was at the bottom of the lake, and for a moment, as Frankie swam through the cloudy waters, oxygen almost gone and unable see the truck Lana had been driving on the night she disappeared, she wondered if maybe they’d been right.

But no, there were the remains of Lana, her truck upside down in the muck, her blonde hair floating in the water.

Now that Frankie has found Lana, a deed she did without expectation of pay, she returns to the internet looking for another missing person. She has no training, no detective license and no connection to the person she is looking for. She doesn’t even have a home or friends. Her next choice is Angelique Lovelie Badeau, a Haitian teenager who lived with brother and aunt in Mattapan, a crime-ridden neighborhood in Boston.

One day, Angelique, a sweet girl and good student, didn’t come home. Later her school bag and cell phone were found hidden in the bushes outside of her school. Her family hopes she’ll be home soon but that was almost a year ago.

Frankie hopes if she locates Angelique the ending will turn out differently than it has with the other 16 people she has found — all of whom were dead.

“There are people out there like Frankie who spend their time looking for missing people,” said Lisa Gardner, author of “Before She Disappeared” (Dutton 2021; $27). “There are dog handlers who volunteer to have their dogs search for missing people for free, pilots who fly their planes over areas where someone has gone missing, and those who use their computer and social media skills to help — all for free.”

Gardner, a New York Times best selling crime novelist, goes deep on the web when looking for true crime plots on which to base her mysteries.

“I like to think of it as research, not procrastination,” said Gardner, who has written more than 30 novels, four of which have been made into movies.

This time, instead of choosing a criminal case to turn into fiction, Gardner’s inspiration came about after reading about Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, who grew frustrated by the number of women going missing on tribal lands and the lack of resources, or even interest, in finding them. Yellowbird-Chase founded the citizen-led Sahnish Scouts, which is dedicated to finding justice for missing people and their families.

“The idea that one person, without any special training or background, can make such a difference amazed me,” she said. “And it’s what brings recovering alcoholic Frankie Elkin to Mattapan, where a Haitian girl went missing 11 months ago. I had no idea the surveillance that goes on in a big city, so 11 months later I realized what this is was almost a closed room case: How does anyone disappear in a city?”

Gardner said she is not a plotter, instead she introduces her characters and then as she writes their personalities take over to tell the story. It was trying to determine what made Frankie tick that got her out of bed each morning to start the day’s writing.

“Before She Disappeared” is Gardner’s first standalone novel in more than 20 years.

“But I’ve failed at writing standalone,” she said, “because I’m already writing the next book about Frankie.”

‘True crime’ inspires fiction thriller

“I’m destined to disappear,” Rachael Bard tells the listeners of her true crime podcasts.

Eliza Jane Brazier

For Sera Fleece, whose life is tumbling down around her as she dwells upon each of her many perceived failures and seldom leaves her home, her time is totally focused on every episode — each one dedicated to a missing or murdered woman. She thinks in terms of the episodes and absorbs the details Rachel reveals about her personal life. Sera knows she lives on Fountain Creek Ranch in the yellow house somewhat distant from her parents’ home and the barns, stables and quarters for the campers who fill the ranch in the summer.

And then, one day it happens. There are no more podcasts and no more social media posts. Rachel has disappeared.

“I know, the first 48 hours are crucial,” Sera tells herself. (After all, she doesn’t talk to anyone else — not her ex-husband who still cares, or her parents, or even the clerks she interacts with when she finally is able to get herself out of the house to buy tea.) “And every hour you don’t update, I think, ‘Something is wrong.’ I think, ‘The case is going cold.’”

So begins “If I Disappear” (Berkley Hardcover 2021) by Eliza Jane Brazier, which follows Sera as she drives to northern California in search of Fountain Creek Ranch.

“I will use the things you told me,” she says to Rachel, promising to find her.

But it doesn’t look promising. Somehow she missed the turn for the ranch, and stopping in the little town where Rachel went to school and where her best friend disappeared when they were high school students, she finds that no one will even mention its existence.

Turning back, she finds the ranch’s entrance, noticeable because what is supposed to be a tourist attraction has signs reading “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” posted on the drive.

“The setting came from a job I took in northern California that got weird at an isolated dude ranch. I won’t go into details, but the truth is very nearly stranger than fiction,” Brazier said when I ask about the eerie setting she created. “The emotion came from finding myself single again after my husband died. And the hook came from my love of true crime.”

Like Sera, Brazier says she was looking for answers but in a different way than most.

“After my husband died, I found that the grieving process really replicated true crime podcasts: you are searching for answers,” she said. “I found a lot of comfort in them and still do to this day. For me it’s about facing your fears, making order out of chaos and also about control. In true crime, you know the bad thing is coming. It can be a way to address trauma and feel less alone in it.”

Playing detective, Sera is hired by the Bards to work with the horses, a job that allows her to search for clues to Rachel’s disappearance. Her searching arouses suspicions but startlingly, she realizes that no one seems concerned about Rachel’s disappearance besides Sera. Rachel, she learns, has disappeared before and will do so again. At the ranch, Sera finds meaning not only in her investigation but in working with the horses and her developing romance with the ranch manager.

Yet that doesn’t stop her search for Rachel, or the overwhelming feelings that there are many dangerous unknowns surrounding her. Was Rachel involved with the ranch manager and what happened to his wife? Did she really go back to Texas like he says. Is it possible he’s a murderer?

Brazier, a screenwriter and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing “If I Disappear” for television and writing another mystery.

“It’s a brutally funny thriller about very bad rich people,” she said.

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This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times:

https://www.nwitimes.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/books-true-crime-inspires-fiction-thriller/article_acce7dc7-16c5-5e85-8824-7862f579cf62.html

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