“Asylum: A Mystery” by Jeanette de Beauvoir
Synopsis: Martine 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 bodytypes 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?
Not until Martine finds herself imprisoned in the terrifying steam tunnels underneath the old asylum does she put the pieces together. And it is almost too late for her…in Jeannette de Beauvoir’s Asylum.
4 out of 5 stars
(Warning: Could be triggering for child abuse)
This is my first time reading Jeanette de Beauvoir and it was a treat. The book is set in Montreal Canada, and is interspersed with French phrases and words. I found that mix of languages charming and appropriate for the story and while I know no French whatsoever, I was able to read and understand just fine.
The book begins with a chapter from a young girl’s diary and hooks you almost immediately. Heartbreakingly sad, you want to know more about this child, but the story is not completely hers. The story is also based around Martine, who is the Publicity Director for the City.
Four women have been found, brutally murdered and sexually assaulted. The bodies have been posed on park benches throughout the city, and Martine has been tasked with partnering with the police to find out who did this. She is paired up with Julian Fletcher, a young incredibly wealthy detective who is refreshingly not a love interest.
The book switched between the two stories; the unknown girl’s diary and Martine’s investigation. The diary get’s progressively more horrific and more and more her story is linked directly with Martine’s investigation.
I found after reading this book that it is based on true events, which is one of my very favorite genres. This is based on the Duplessis Orphans, also called the “Canadian Holocaust”. In this case, truth is stranger that fiction, and de Beauvior was kind enough to include her sources at the end of the book. I did a bit of research.
In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s there was widespread poverty in Quebec and the Roman Catholic Church held power over both city and state. It was the churches responsibility to take care of the poor, the unwed mothers, and the unwanted children. Due to overwhelming pressure by the Church, the children born out of wedlock were placed in orphanages along with children that families were unable to feed or care for (sources state the number as being around 22,000) Because the orphanages received so little financial support from the government, it was decided to convert them to insane asylums as there was more financial support available there.
The asylums were under no one’s supervision, and one can only imagine the abuse that occured there. It gets worse. Apparently in collusion with the United States, the CIA started testing mind control drugs on these orphans, known as Project MKUltra. In addition to the abuse, and mind altering drugs, scientific experiments were often performed on the children such as lobotomies or other dissections of the brain. Electric shock treatments, hydrotherapy, and a plentiful source of cheap cadavers kept this horror under wraps until the early 1960’s.
In the 1990’s about 3,000 survivors banded together for legal recourse. At first their claims were dismissed, but enough publicity had been garnered for them to receive a small settlement. In 2004 the remaining survivors asked the Quebec government to unearth the graves of the children that died in the asylums due to abuse or medical experimentation gone wrong.
The book itself is a great read and moves quickly. The characters are sympathetic and believable and the plot is amazing. What makes it hard is knowing the truth behind the story.
I really recommend this as it’s one of the best books I’ve read in while.