First, I need to profess my love for that cover. It definitely gave me a “Shut up and take my money moment.” It’s beautiful in a messed-up way.
Mindy McGinnis’s other book, Not A Drop To Drink, was one of my favorite books that I read in 2015. When I heard about this one, I knew that I needed to give it a try. Luckily, it’s pretty good.
This novel is set in the 1800s and follows a woman, Grace Mae, who is committed to an insane asylum for being an aristocrat with loose morals. Basically, her family sent her to an asylum because she’s pregnant and unmarried, and they don’t want the public to know. In the asylum, Grace meets a doctor who is studying criminal psychology. The doctor notices Grace’s intelligence and great memory, so he decides to make her his assistant. They work together to stop a serial killer who is murdering young girls.
I saw this book marketed as a historical thriller, but I’m not sure if that’s a good way to describe it. The pacing is very slow for a thriller, but it’s an entertaining historical novel. I love that it gives off vibes of classic horror and detective stories. Grace’s life in the asylum is so brutal that she begs for a lobotomy. Most of the doctors and nurses offer no help and treat the patients like animals. Grace spends most of her time locked in a cell until she meets a doctor who sees her potential. It’s depressing, but historically accurate. Insane asylums were not pleasant places.
The characters are the best part of this book. Even the ones deemed “sane” are unpredictable and morally gray. The reader has to question what “sane” and “insane” mean because many of the characters blur the lines. These characters are wicked-smart. They don’t always make the most ethical choices. Their dialogue is snappy. Even though the story is depressing, there were times where I laughed at the characters’ conversations. If you’re interested in novels with brilliant dialogue, check this one out.
I did have trouble with some parts of the book. First, the plot sometimes feels like it isn’t going anywhere. It’s just floundering. The middle is especially slow. I wish the characters had felt more urgency to catch the murderer because the slowest parts occur while they are sitting around, discussing the crimes.
I also think that some parts of the story work out a little too conveniently. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but a few situations—especially at the end—are solved a little too easily for me to believe.
I didn’t love everything about this book, but I did love what it teaches the reader about the history of mental health care. “Sane” and “insane” are often just labels. They can be subjective, and their meanings can change as society changes. In this book, all of the characters are a little crazy, even the ones who don’t live in the asylum.