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Book Author: Jeanette De Beauvoir

ASYLUM by Jeannette de Beauvoir: Book Review

Martine LeDuc, public relations director for the city of Montréal, is called into the mayor’s office and told she would be the liaison to the police for the four murders that have shaken the city.  This sounds important, but Martine knows that she was chosen by the mayor just to get her out of his way; everyone else on his staff has important jobs to do, as he sees it, so Martine can best be spared.

She is paired with police detective Julian Fletcher, scion of a wealthy Anglo family in the city.  At first the two believe what seems obvious to everyone, that these four crimes were sexual in nature, all of the women having been raped before being murdered.  But while most serial rapists/killers attack women with similar lifestyles or looks, that’s not the case here.  One was a prostitute, one an investigative journalist, one a librarian, and the fourth a philanthropist.  They varied in age, looks, positions in life–so why were they victims?

When Martine and Julian find what they believe the women have in common, they have to work to put it all together.  And once they’re on the road to proving it, Julian is taken off the case, which may well reach into the highest levels of the Québec government and the Catholic Church.

The actual crimes committed by the church and the Québécois prime minister Maurice Duplessis in the 1940s and 1950s form the basis for this book. As the nuns and the Québec government became partners with the Central Intelligence Agency at the height of the Cold War, crimes against children were justified for that self-serving concept, “the greater good.”  I have never before read an Author’s Note that moved me to tears, but the last two pages of this novel did just that.

The novel is told in two voices, one being Martine’s in the present and the other excerpts from an unknown child’s diary written decades ago.  We are able to follow the story of this girl and the other orphans as they are moved from their homes, first to orphanages and then to asylums for the benefit of the church, the physicians who “cared” for them, and the mysterious firm that paid for the drugs that were used on them.

In the middle of the last century, the government of Québec paid the church $1.25 daily for each child in an orphanage and $2.25 for each person in a mental hospital.  So children were transferred to the asylum of Cité de Saint Jean-de-Dieu that was run by nuns; these children became, overnight, legally insane.  They were put into restraints, left for hours in cold water baths, and given mind-altering drugs to see how they were affected.  If this sounds like some horrific fantasy by George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, unfortunately it’s not; it was all too true.

Martine LeDuc is a terrific heroine.  She’s bright, good at her job, and obviously distraught at what she and Julian have discovered went on in Québec more than seventy ago.  She’s determined to right the wrongs committed by those in power as best she can, in part by making her discoveries public.  But, of course, that leads to great danger for herself.

Jeannette De Beauvoir has written other novels under various pseudonyms, but Asylum is the first featuring Martine LeDuc.  I hope it is the beginning of a series.

You can read more about Jeannette de Beauvoir at  this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.