Review: The Devil’s Sanctuary

wpid-dsc_0041.jpgWritten by Marie Hermanson, published by Little, Brown, trade paperback 978 1 847445766 £12.99

This is a rather different style of book for me. Usually I’ll go with thrillers and crime stories, but this was a book I saw in Waterstone’s, and the cover attracted me almost immediately.

Identical twins Daniel and Max have a not particularly close relationship. In fact, although Daniel wants to be close to his brother, he finds Max to be an overpowering, ruthless man. Although Daniel has had his ups and downs, Max has “always seemed to be on a rollercoaster ride of success and failure”. He could be “inhumanly energetic when he started a project”, but then he’d all too often lose interest and walk away.

Their differences had begun from an early age. Daniel was the older twin, and appeared to take on himself the responsibility of looking after Max. Max barely bothered to learn to speak or even crawl, because Daniel would fetch everything for him. This unnatural behaviour (for twins) finally resulted in the family separating, Daniel staying with his mother and Max living with their father. As they grew up, the two grew apart. Now, Max rarely contacts Daniel except by phone, and when he does, he always sounds drunk.

However, now he has written and asked Daniel to visit him in an asylum in Switzerland. And all seems very civilised. The asylum is more like an expensive holiday resort hotel than a place to hold the mentally ill. Daniel is impressed, and stays with Max in his chalet, fishing, cycling and enjoying the views – until one morning Max proposes that they swap identity for a matter of a few days. He leaves Daniel there in his place, and suddenly the identical twin becomes the patient. Max has taken his passport and clothes, and Daniel is left behind. Which is fine, except Max doesn’t return when he promised and it dawns on his twin that this was always his intention.

But how can an identical twin persuade the doctors that he is who he says? Especially when his own patient records show that he has no twin?

And then he learns that this is a very special asylum indeed, designed to hold only the most dangerous of all patients.

This is a really good little book. It’s not spine-tingling, but it raises a lot of questions about how you would behave if thrown into a similar series of situations. The writing and translation (expertly done by Neil Smith) is superb, and there is none of that occasional clunkiness which can appear. I found it a really excellent read.

Highly recommended!

2 Responses to “Review: The Devil’s Sanctuary”
  1. this sounds good, not my thing usually but I’m putting it on my list of ‘to reads’.


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