Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Asylum.
In a Victorian mystery set in 1882 Cornwall and London, Harwood deposits Georgina Ferrars in Tregannon House, an asylum far better than the infamous Bedlam but home to the mad nonetheless. It seems Georgina has had a seizure on the grounds near the hospital and been found by the nephew of the estate’s owner, Felix Mordaunt. Felix brings the young woman to the hospital’s director, Maynard Straker, who gives her a dose of laudanum for agitation upon awakening, later coming to her room to announce the circumstances of her residence.
Assured that she is a voluntary patient and can leave any time, Georgina agrees to wait for a telegram to be delivered to her uncle’s house in London, where the matter of her identity can be confirmed. Imagine her shock when Dr. Straker announces that Miss Georgina Ferrars is at home in London and fears his patient may be Lucy Ashston, a clever girl and talented mimic who may have been up to mischief. Outraged, Georgina—or Lucy—demands to confront the fake Miss Ferrars, though Dr. Straker is concerned that any upset may make her condition worse. The unwilling patient finally begins to understand that something is gravely amiss.
Searching her memory for the fragments of family history only vaguely remembered, Georgina recalls little other than her maiden aunt’s reluctance to share the details of her mother’s short, unhappy life, or that of the extended family. Georgina is certain that if she could retrieve her writing case holding her diary and a precious pin given to her by her mother, she could either escape or somehow make the doctor believe her. Her only distraction while awaiting Straker’s return is the company of Felix Mordaunt, a shy, appealing young man who listens avidly to her troubles. But does he report what she says to Straker?
Mercifully, Part Two introduces a series of letters that flesh out the family history through the correspondence of Georgina’s mother, Emily, and her cousin Rosina. The letters do much to clarify what lies behind Georgina’s false incarceration but do little to solve her problem of getting released from Tregannon House. Once events finally come to a head, the action alleviates the boredom of a predictable plot, though not entirely. The complications of family connection are unlikely, Straker’s place in the scheme even more bizarre than the family ties and the denouement, a true farce of near-fainting heroine, an ineffective Prince Charming and an evil man perfect for a Mel Brooks movie.
There is far too much melodrama and too little substance to the characters to make any of these people worth caring about, from the retiring, frightened damsel to the overbearing, megalomaniac doctor and insipid suitor, let alone the woman masquerading as the real Georgina in London. There’s a twist at end, but too late to save the day.