Review: ‘Asylum’ by Jeannette de Beauvoir (4-Stars)

22545444Martine LeDuc is the director of PR for the mayor’s office in Montreal. When four women are found brutally murdered and shockingly posed on park benches throughout the city over several months, Martine’s boss fears a PR disaster for the still busy tourist season, and Martine is now also tasked with acting as liaison between the mayor and the police department. The women were of varying ages, backgrounds and body types and seemed to have nothing in common. Yet the macabre presentation of their bodies hints at a connection. Martine is paired with a young detective, Julian Fletcher, and together they dig deep into the city’s — and the country’s — past, only to uncover a dark secret dating back to the 1950s, when orphanages in Montreal and elsewhere were converted to asylums in order to gain more funding. The children were subjected to horrific experiments such as lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and psychotropic medication, and many of them died in the process. The survivors were supposedly compensated for their trauma by the government and the cases seem to have been settled. So who is bearing a grudge now, and why did these four women have to die?

I really liked this one.

The story takes place in Montreal, Québec, Canada, and this was a first for me. I’ve never read a book that takes place in any part of Canada, let alone a province that’s primarily Francophone. But I loved it mostly because now I got to put my three years of high school French lessons to use. So far it’s the one book that didn’t intimidate me with its foreign language.

Anyway, there have been four separate murders committed in Montreal, over several months, all seemingly random, no connection, of women found posed nude on park benches, and the local police, the SPVM, aren’t looking any deeper than a “serial killer sex crime.” Not even serial killer, as they typically have an obvious pattern and type of victim, and this killer, the only connection these victims had to each other was that they were raped. They were all of varying ages, one victim being in her 60s, I think.

This story is told in two POVs, Martine’s and one of the children from the asylum who witnessed horrific things in the asylum, from her arrival to the orphanage to the introduction of one of the victims.

So, you have Martine LeDuc, a publicity director for the city of Montreal, tasked with being essentially a “nanny” to the SPVM overlooking the case to report back to her boss, and young, lieutenant-detective Julian Fletcher, the nanny to the nanny, eventually going off on their own to do their own investigating into the murders because their guts aren’t letting them believe that some random homeless man who happened to have a couple pieces of the victims’ clothing is responsible for something so sinister.

Julian and Martine end up finding out the connection between all four victims, and then that leads them down the road to an old scandal that goes back all the way to the 1950s in Montreal that involved an orphanage-turned-asylum, the Cité-de-St-Jean-de-Dieu, known as the Duplessis Scandal.

What I really loved about this story is the author note at the end, and her explaining that much of what happened in this book is based on actual history, and this is why I find asylums so damned fascinating. Almost all of them have such sordid pasts, and as depressing as it probably was to live through, and I can’t imagine the pain and suffering and torturing that happened, I love how well the author incorporates the history into fiction. Much respect as well to the author for adding the names of the children whose corpses weren’t sold to hospitals for $10 but instead buried in a mass grave. Not all of them have been identified, but those that were, I agree, they don’t deserve to be forgotten.

I guess the mystery could be seen as pretty predictable, but in my personal experience reading this, my surprise was more on figuring out how the killer connected to the Duplessis orphans and putting two and two together. I’m sure if I think back I can say that I had an idea of who it was, and that it was maybe kind of obvious, but it really wasn’t. Not for me. Mostly because I wasn’t focused on the whodunnit aspect, but on just putting the pieces together to solve more than just the murders.

I ended up giving this one 4 out of 5 stars, mostly because, as easy as it is for me to suspend my disbelief for this book, it still seemed kind of unrealistic to me that a PR director would get paired up with a detective to solve a series of homicides, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and the writing was really well done.


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