Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 2015
At first glance one would think that this is a story about the mental patients and the horrific encounters they have gone through staying in the asylums. While it is indeed true at some point, what makes this book such a harrowing read is it is based on some true events which happened from the 1930s.
Let me start off with the fictional part - Martine LeDuc, the heroine of this story, works as a public relations director for the Montreal mayor's office. Her job is basically to make sure that the name of Montreal city is kept well at stake and to make any necessary amendments should a PR related issue arises. Like all other PR reps, they always have a fear for any PR disaster and in this case it became a nightmare for Martine as there were four women being brutally murdered and shockingly posed on park benches throughout Montreal. Montreal becomes unsafe and Martine's boss appoints her as liaison between the mayor and the police department. Martine will work together with a young detective named Julian Fletcher as they go around asking questions surrounding the victims. It is a challenging task as the victims appeared to have nothing in common, varying from ages, backgrounds and body types. The police speculates that they are random sexually motivated serial killings but yet the macabre presentation of their bodies hints at a connection. They then began to dig into the city's past and uncovered some dark secrets hidden during the 1950s, involving orphans and how they were being admitted to hospitals for the insane.
Now comes the factual part (as stated under the author's note) - There were indeed orphans who were shipped from orphanages to asylums back in the 1940s. Back then, a scheme was developed to obtain additional federal funding for the children, most of them "orphaned" through forced separation from their unwed mothers (they were called as the Duplessis orphans, under the leadership of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis.) The federal government offered more monetary support (primarily financially) for asylums than orphanages and medical experimentation soon overrode the mere fiduciary rewards (You can learn more about Duplessis orphans here.)
While there is indeed a mystery to be solved here, what made this book such an unforgettable read to me is the characterisation of Martine and Julian and not to mention the disturbing facts of the Duplessis orphans. Martine may be a mere civilian but she was a courageous heroine in my opinion. Julian, on the other hand oozed charms but he was a competent detective when it comes to fishing information and making some necessary connections. He could also be witty at times. While I can't say I enjoyed reading this due to the true events, it was overall a very satisfying read with the mystery and the facts tied together. I will be looking forward to reading more of Jeannette de Beauvoir's books (the back cover flap mentioned that she explores personal and moral questions through historical fiction, mysteries, and mainstream fiction; which I think sometimes a factual story is best told through fiction.)