Lead Review (The Sanctuary)

  • Book: The Sanctuary
  • Location: Okehampton
  • Author: Charlotte Duckworth

Review Author: Tina Hartas



There is a whole slew of novels set in a sanctuary setting at the moment, and all with unsettling premises.

Four pregnant women decamp to The Sanctuary outside Okehampton in Devon, run by Selina and Will, for a long weekend of pampering, therapy and down-time. They are house in yurts (or bell tents) to be close to nature, but I would be pretty askance if I turned up there to find that – given their condition – there is a toilet block rather than en suite facilities, which sort of paid to the nurturing ambience that the owners are trying to create. And everyone can hear what the others are up to in their tents because the sound proofing is minimal.

They embark on their weekend, mostly with enthusiasm – one of the guests is a journalist/influencer, due to publicise her experiences there to the world. There can watch cookery, be guided by Selina in one-on-one personal therapy session, meditate, explore the kitchen garden and generally be at one with nature. The relaxing atmosphere is undermined early on when they discover a figure on fire in a field, at first the horror that it might be a human being, but it soon transpires that it is a scarecrow. Alarmingly for Salena, it has been decked out in a pair of her favourite leggings.

As they move through their days there is distinct evidence that there is a baby on the premises, but Selena brushes that off as the mewling of a fox. There is a dead rat with a severed head, the odd note, which all proves quite unsettling to the residents and then secrets are exposed – once out of the box, they can no longer be ignored.

The is a stark resemblance to C L Taylor’s Her Last Holiday, set in Wales and Gozo, which had a similar premise – a couple running a retreat where therapy was being offered by someone who had never really trained in the discipline, with a  peppering of secrets and inappropriate behaviour. Another thriller to consider, if you like this kind of storyline, is The Retreat by Sarah Pearse, set off the coast of Devon.

It is a fluidly written novel, that is easy to read, perhaps a little formulaic.

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