Asylum is set in Montreal, where Martine DeLuc is content as director of public relations for the mayorís office, happily married to Ivan Petrinko, director of the Montreal Casino, and part-time stepmother to Ivanís two children. The city has recently been terrified by four shocking murders.
The last brings sufficient heat to the mayorís office that he assigns Martine to serve as liaison between his office and the police investigation, reporting daily progress in the quest of a serial killer.
Though such a specific task is above Martineís pay grade, she is savvy enough to realize
that she is the only truly expendable member of the mayorís staff; thus, her absence from the office will inconvenience few, allowing business to proceed smoothly. Assigned Detective-Lieutenant Julian Fletcher for assistance in navigating the unfamiliar terrain, Martine warns the sartorially resplendent young man that she has literally no experience in pursuing criminals, but he isnít worried. From a prominent, wealthy Montreal family, Julian is confident that the two of them can accomplish what the law enforcement bureaucracy cannot, perhaps even solve the crimes and locate the killer. While it first appears that the victims have nothing in common, Julian and Martine begin researching the recent histories of the four women the killer has so cruelly left on display in a naked tableau, each on a city bench in full view of passersby. When there are no immediate results, they dig deeper, eventually discovering a link--albeit obscure--to the notorious Duplessis Orphanage Scandal of the 1950s in Montreal.
The mystery assumes a more disturbing tone in selection drawn from fifty years ago, when unwed mothers are encouraged to turn their out-of-wedlock babies over to Catholic orphanages to be raised by
le bonne soeurs, "the good sisters." Counseled by parish priests that such children might have a chance in a world prejudiced against them (and mothers might make suitable marriages), children are funneled into the orphanages. And, should a family suffer financial hardship, no longer able to care for their children, they are assured that their offspring will be given housing and nourishment in such places.
Of course, none of this is true. The children chattel, made to work for their keep and endure unending hardship and cruelty. Their world becomes even more nightmarish when Duplessis, with the collusion of the Catholic Church, agrees to convert the orphanages into asylums, thereby gaining additional funding from the government. Housed with mentally ill and violent inmates, these helpless children are subjected to sanctioned experimentation including lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and the administration of psychotropic drugs, experiments designed to understand the workings of the human brain. There are darker implications: at a time when Communism is a growing threat, the government is desperate to find a way to control behavior through the administration of powerful drugs, the United States, via CIA funding, supporting the endeavors of its allies.
While Martine and Fletcher stumble over the tip of this political iceberg in an election year, the true nature of horror is revealed through the writings of one of the orphans, Gabrielle Roy, whose description of her experiences in the orphanage-cum-asylum
relate an unbelievable, horrific account of child torture and brutality at the hands of caretakers and doctors alike. In this harrowing, memorable recounting, the true depth of the outrage is exposed--as is the need to cover up an explosive story. When the past spills into the present, Martine suddenly finds herself in real danger, staring into the eyes of a madman, his next victim. Trapped in the bowels of the infamous asylum where Gabrielle once witnessed the unspeakable, Martine faces certain death, the killer preparing to strike and no one to hear should she even be able to scream.