Review: Marie Hermanson – The Devil’s Sanctuary

The Devil’s Sanctuary by Marie Hermanson was a book that I kept picking up and putting down again. The reference to Shutter IslandDevil's Sanctuary on the blurb wasn’t doing much for me and neither was the promise of a twin swap story. I shouldn’t really read blurbs. Many of the library books I devoured when I was growing up came from the pre-blurb age and I often had absolutely no idea what I was about to read. This was no bad thing as my current gripe about blurbs is that they give too much away. Admittedly the twin swap comes early on in the book but, to be honest, a bit of suspense would have made the book more appealing. In the end it was an enjoyable read and, although not a genre I normally read, there was enough suspense to keep me turning the page.

Daniel goes to visit his bipolar brother, Max, in a Swiss institution and is persuaded by him to take his place while Max goes and tracks down some money due to him which will secure his release. Daniel realises his brother isn’t coming back and staff and patients at the hospital refuse to believe his story that he is the innocent twin. He soon realises something is amiss in the place and that the institution has a nightmarish underbelly that prevents patients from interacting with the outside world.

This is a claustrophobic book with a strong sense of menace throughout. Even as Daniel arrives at the institution, you’re mentally urging him not to stay the night in the place. The premise is slightly unbelievable. If you look so like your twin, and Daniel has a history of being mistaken for the unstable Max, then your guard would have been up as soon as your brother suggests an identity swap. However, that aside, once Daniel realises his situation the book is very good at portraying the nightmarish quality of institution’s regime.

The book is written (and translated) in a clear, matter-of-fact way which works well in relation to the subject matter. We’re not reading a gothic mystery but a modern take on a theme in literature: twins or people who bear a close resemblance to another person swapping places. Like in  The Man in the Iron Mask  and the Tale of Two Cities we are presented with a good versus evil battle, which to my mind isn’t quite resolved. But it was an interesting book and something different from my usual fare.

Thanks to Little Brown for my copy of the book. The translation was by Neil Smith.

20 thoughts on “Review: Marie Hermanson – The Devil’s Sanctuary

  1. Thanks for the review Sarah. I totally agree with you regarding ‘blurbs’ and often when receiving proofs now will ignore the info sheet and the blurb so as to read the book in splendid isolation. You’re quite right in your opinion that too much is given away sometimes. As for this book I’m a little unconvinced as you were: the whole notion of twins in a book never sits well with me with their interchangeable identities!


  2. It took me three days to read up to page 85 of this one and now that the book club meeting for which I was supposed to finish it has been and gone (this morning) I can see it going back to the library forever unfinished – it just did not hold my attention at all – there wasn’t a single surprise for me in that first 85 pages so I had even lower expectations for the rest.

    I definitely am with you on blurbs though – far too much given away with this one…and many others.


  3. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Thanks very much for the thoughtful review. After reading this and some of the other reviews out there, I think I’ll wait on this one. I’m glad you found it interesting and I always think it’s worth trying something new. I do. But I just don’t think it’s for me – at least not right now. But your review’s terrific and please – don’t get me started on blurbs. Please don’t.


  4. I agree about blurbs, as I prefer to go into a book ‘blind’, just looking at the opening and dipping into a few pages further on. But, then I do like to have some idea about the author and the book as a whole, so I often do look at blurbs. What I hate are sites like wikipedia where the plot outlines give everything away! That’s spoilt a few books for me, so I don’t look at all now.


    1. Hi Margaret – yes, I rarely look at book (or TV) reviews on wiki as they give too much away. Actually, Amazon reviews are guilty of the same thing. That said – having moaned about it, I did then focus my review on the twin aspect.


  5. Thanks for the review, Sarah, and hmmm. It sounds a little like Theorin’s The Asylum in terms of its atmosphere: a continual sense of menace and unease, which I’m not sure is what I’m looking for just before bed! On my TBR pile, but slipping down the list…


  6. It’s not just the spoilers in blurbs that annoy me, it’s the fact that sometimes they bear so little relation to the actual book. And comparisons drive me crazy. Every book is compared to the latest bestseller – I want to read something different, not clones of the same book over and over again!


  7. You’ve hit a nerve on blurbs, and I’m right there with everyone else – it’s appalling what publishers put in blurbs. They were always reputed to be written by what we’d now call the intern or the work experience person, and you can believe it, but more attention should be paid! I don’t mind so much about Wiki and amazon – I never look at their entries before I read, I know that they will often contain spoilers, and I quite like being able to read them afterwards – it’s good that there’s somewhere you can look at the full story, and read others’ take on plot points. But there is no excuse for blurbs having spoilers. As to the actual book – I like the sound of that concept, it’s the kind of plot device I enjoy, but I also have faith in you, so I’m not thinking it’s going to be a great book….


  8. I am just echoing what most of the comments here have said. I try to avoid any information, including blurbs and the summary on the flap of the dust jacket. I hate it when too much info is given. And it really irritates me when it seems like they get it wrong. Oh, well, actually just glad we still have print books, and maybe the blurbs help sell them.

    Beyond that, the story of a twin exchange causes me to back off, but maybe some day I will give this a try.


    1. True! It is a feature of print books and I do prefer it to the opening chapter method we get for kindle. I do think nostalgically back to pre blurb books though. I have a few on my shelf.


  9. Probably not one for me to be honest. It’s an interesting topic re blurbs and reviews. How do you get the balance right between discussing just enough to pique someone’s interest and going too far and removing surprise elements that are part of the enjoyment? I constantly struggle with that one.


  10. Pingback: The Best of June’s Reading | crimepieces

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