The Sanctuary by Emma Haughton – Review

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By Sandra Callard

The setting is a desert. Different, certainly, and it begins with thirty something Zoey who is trying to pull herself together with another searing hangover. This becomes the least of her problems when she realises she is in some luxurious place in the desert, where she is treated well, but cannot escape.

Kind people come to help her, talk to her and feed her and she realises she is in some kind of healing place. She settles down with others who are also receiving treatment and the strange slowly becomes normal. Normal, that is, until someone is murdered.

And so The Sanctuary becomes a murder mystery, although the inmates and the staff seem to accept the appalling oddity of the situation without much protest, and Zoey soon begins to feel the benefit of not being drunk. But the reason why she is there is still not apparent, nor how she got there.

the sanctuary emma haughton book review cover“Unusual book”

The situation is perfect for a murder mystery story. The characters are confined and one of them must be the murderer, but the lack of tension or horror at the situation, which has become so bizarre, is a palpable failure from the author. It follows the usual line of highlighting the apparent guilt of everyone, but lacks the necessity of clues to keep the reader guessing. Agatha Christie it is not.

Still, it is a very unusual book, cleverly put together, despite the lack of tension. The impossible situation eventually seem normal, which is no mean narrative feat. It’s beautifully written, with a great team of characters.

This is a brave attempt at a murder mystery in a unique setting by a talented author, but it misses its marks too often. Reader credulity is a long time coming, and by the time it does eventually take hold, crime fans will be frustrated by the lack of clue dropping, and casual readers may have given up the ghost.

‘The Sanctuary’ by Emma Haughton is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99 hardback


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