The Retreat by Sarah Pearse

As I settle into my summer holiday, I imagine arriving at LUMEN, a beautiful, luxurious wellness retreat off the coast of England. So picturesque, a perfect place to unwind, or so the guests thought! I, on the other hand, had a heads up from the cover:

I rubbed by hands together with glee – this was not going to be a relaxing stay for anyone – quite the opposite in fact! Tension-filled and action-packed, with so many twists and turns, the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. Right up my street, I devoured this book and finished it wanting more. Whilst this was my first Sarah Pearse novel, it definitely won’t be my last – highly recommended!

As soon as I picked it up, I noticed the blurb heeding a warning which intrigued me before I had even started reading:

Yikes, this may not be the Champney Spa minibreak I was imagining. I dived straight into The Retreat, immediately immersed in the action, not realising that the main character, DS Elin Warner, had previously been in Pearse’s debut, The Sanitarium. Over time, it became apparent, but I needn’t have worried however, as Pearse provides enough detail to ensure newcomers like myself have a well-rounded view of Elin – troubled, yet determined, I liked her from the off.

Returning from a career break, we meet an anxious heroine, full of doubt, who is trying to keep her demons at bay. Little tit-bits of information are threaded through The Retreat, referring to Elin’s previous cases and the origins of her demons; I liked these elements as they added to the character’s depth and actually made me more invested in her succeeding in solving the case.

When a body is found at the bottom of a cliff on the island of the retreat, Elin is asked to look into it with her partner Steed – on first glance, it looks like a tragic accident. As they begin the investigation however, it soon becomes apparent that this is not going to be an open and shut case. The island’s shady past quickly begins to emerge.

The island had been the location of a series of tragedies, including a boarding school fire and the site of several murders from twenty years ago: an unusual place for a wellness retreat, I know! I am not the only one thinking this, as many of the characters feel uneasy and concerned as they arrive at the island and see ‘Reaper’s Rock’ for the first time looming over them – an ominous, natural feature of the island surrounded by densely-packed trees – some even believing that it is cursed. Its eerie presence is nicely contrasted with the beautiful retreat, complete with glass-bottomed pool, outdoor yoga pavilion and modern villas, all nestled between the thick, wild woodland. The island feels like a character in itself, and the scenery in fact plays a big part in the story, with the iminent storm evoking a feeling of impending doom as the tension builds.

Alongside the DS Elin storyline, a second storyline follows a group of guests, Hana, her sister Jo, cousin Maya, and their respective partners. Jo organised the holiday through her travel blog in an attempt for them to reconnect. Straight away, it is clear tensions are high, and not everyone is being honest with one another. There is definitely not a ‘happy family’ vibe here, with some characters clearly resenting others, and it is interesting to see how secrets emerge and the truth comes out throughout the story.

I enjoyed the split storyline approach, as it kept me on my toes. Chapters are short and punchy (just what I like) and Pearse seamlessly moves from Elin to Hana as the chapters progress, often leaving one at a cliffhanger, and moving the action to the other at such a pace, I was gripped. So clever! I kept on reading, unable to put the book down, worrying over the characters…no-one was safe, everyone potentially a suspect!

This fast-paced story kept me guessing all the way through, as I tried to figure out how all of the victims were linked, and I could not pin down who the cuprit was, however hard I tried. Once the killer had been revealed, to my delight, the action picked up even further. With my heart in my mouth, I thoroughly enjoyed the climax, constantly on edge and wondering whether everyone would come out alive.

The Retreat is an unputdownable treat, which I highly recommend, and is a must for all mystery, thriller fans like myself. I’m also intrigued by what is haunting Elin, and am now going to go back and read The Sanitarium to find out a bit more about her murky past. I am sure, if it is anything like The Retreat, I will be left wanting more. Hopefully there will be another book in the pipeline soon!

A big thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the proof and a spot on the tour. To find out more about Sarah Pearse and to purchase her book, check out her website.

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