The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

My Five Word TL:DR Review : In two minds about this

The Retreat is going to be an unusual review to write because I seriously am in two minds about this one.  On the one hand I loved the writing.  The book is absolutely full of atmosphere.  It’s a locked room mystery.  The setting is excellent and the sense of nature well described but on the other hand I found the ending a little unresolved in some respects and the antagonist lacking motivation or believability.

As the book begins (and after a dramatic opening prologue) we meet Maeve Martin as she arrives at the High Water Centre for the Arts.  Tucked up in the Rocky Mountains is a beautiful lodge surrounded by trees and nature.  The Retreat boasts quiet space, a stunning lodge and small cabins where people can work uninterrupted.  Maeve has taken a two week break and aims to use the time to formulate a plan for her own dance company.  Unfortunately, not long after her arrival disaster strikes.  Ever worsening weather leads to an avalanche and the centre is completely cut off from any means of contact with the outside world.

Without doubt The Retreat excels in terms of the writing.  Mariaffi conjures up a fantastic setting and then proceeds to cloak it in the most creepy and pervasive atmosphere.  In fact the first two thirds of the book held me gripped – I sat up into the early hours reading and I can say that I was genuinely a little freaked out – by which I mean scared!  The final third was where the ploit started to hot up and the body count began to rise.

I think, if memory serves, that there were seven people left stranded following the avalanche, a mix of people, a couple of characters who run the retreat and a mix of creatives including artists, film makers and dancers. Maeve feels a little like an insider as the others have all met previously and she often doesn’t understand the nuances of the group and their inside jokes.  There appears to be rivalry, particularly between certain characters and Maeve’s arrival seems to be the catalyst for things to escalate.  Maeve is coming to terms with a number of things.  She experienced a violent marriage that has now ended and she is also coming to terms with the fact that her dancing career is coming to a conclusion and trying to think of her future.  She’s left her two children in the care of their grandmother although she seemed to have a rocky relationship with her mother that leaves her anxious.  We find out much of Maeve’s history over the course of the story but it’s included in a very natural way and adds to the feelings of tension and fear that Maeve experiences.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think the plot became a little chaotic in the final quarter (or Day 7).  I wouldn’t say that I came away from the book with all my questions answered and the eventual murderer seemed very thinly drawn to me.  I just didn’t buy into the motivations or reasoning to be honest. I noticed a few reviewers mentioned the over long chapters – I wouldn’t say that I found this a problem but each chapter represents one day and some of the chapters are indeed quite lengthy so bear that in mind.

To be fair to the author, and in spite of my reservations I still came away from this read with more positives than negatives.  I loved the writing and I guess the plot played second fiddle a little to that aspect.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating – between 3.5 and 4 of 5 stars

3 Responses to “The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Haha, it sounds like this one has the weakness of so many thrillers I read these days – chaotic ending!

  2. pagesandtea

    Parts of this sound like it would make a good read, not sure about the chaotic end and being left with questions though.

  3. Tammy

    It sounds like it had potential but didn’t quite work. I love the set up though. I need to read more stories about a group of characters who are stranded!

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