Book Review #81 – The Retreat

This place had made a killer out of her – Sherri Smith.

This book has been kindly gifted by Titan Books, but all views are my own.

How is that for a first line of a book?! I was hooked from those very first words, needing to know who her was, why she had become a killer, and who she had killed, not to mention the all-encompassing why. Reading the narrative through the killer’s eyes always strikes me with a vice-like grip. It dares you to fully embrace the story from their perspective, no matter how dark the situation. In general, we are always trying to get into the heads of murderers, trying to scope their minds for the intricate reasons behind a killing; well, any kind of criminal act. So, to write that very first line from the killer’s perspective makes for an absolute game-changer in thrillers… from the reading experiences I’ve had with them.

The Retreat follows four perspectives of four women who have come together to attend a life-changing retreat over the Memorial Day weekend, only they don’t expect it to turn out the way it did. Katie is a twenty-seven year old has-been actress who suffers from manic depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Her only saviour is a bottle of vodka and the locks on her Brownstone. Ellie is Katie’s future sister-in-law: the perfect British woman who is sophisticated and aloof, but she too has demons of her own. Ariel is Katie’s absolute best friend from college. She has big dreams of returning to New York one day, but lives in the shadow of virtually everybody else; always wanting a better life for herself, never quite grasping it. Carmen is the third of the college trio, a medical school drop-out who cares for her ill father and younger siblings, needing to survive, wishing for a different life completely.

The story unfolds with a mystery attached to it and a bloody knife as evidence. Memories whisper and torment the four women as the retreat begins, each of them hoping that by the end of the weekend, all of their problems will be solved, their frantic worries disappeared. The solution, according to Dr. Dave, is hallucinogen, ayahuasca. It is the transcendent drug that will take their life on a path to enlightenment. In a way, all of their problems are solved on the night of the callous ceremony, but not for the better.

The Retreat kept me guessing right until the very end. It is a story with so many twists that you’ll second guess yourself. That is until it becomes obvious what is happening. The killer has good reason, noble and righteous in their mind… at least for her true victim. The rest are simply baggage, a means to an end. Nevertheless, I had hoped for something a little more concrete, a little more sinister, a little more interesting.

There are too many loose ends in the story. I want to know more about the retreat itself, why it always seems to be on the police’s radar, what exactly happened there before Memorial Weekend. I feel like there is a huge plot that could have been an intriguing discovery centralising around Dr. Dave and his wife, Naomi. They don’t seem to very much care for the other, only using each other in some sort of way. Naomi’s character especially is someone of note. Her past seems to lurk behind her and her complete false facade is completely see-through. I want to know her story, the story of how the retreat came to be, and how many skeletons it has in the basement.

All in all, it was a complete page-turner, a thrill, a guessing game of whodunnit, but it does not give Gone Girl a run for its money as the cover suggests. I can see the comparison – the traits of the personalities and how the killer twists the mind of the victim to believe they have done something terrible, the subtle hints of a true revelation, the disguise, the act and the deceit. In fact, thinking about it now, there are a lot of similarities between the two protagonists, something that is a tribute to Gillian Flynn. The sheer level of intricate detail and suspense that Gone Girl entails is incomparable. Nevertheless, The Retreat in its own right has its own unparalleled features too.

An ideal summer thriller that is a gripping page turner and an easy read for beside the pool.

Love, Faye xo

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