Thursday, February 26, 2015

Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir

First Sentence:  The woman sitting in the backseat shivered and drew the child closer to her side.
Four women have been murdered and left displayed on park benches in Montreal.  With it being an election year, this is not good PR for the tourist season.  The city’s mayor, asks Montreal's publicity director to act as liaison between his office and the police.  Although both agencies would like a quick and easy solution, Martine and Lt. Dec. Julian Fletcher suspect there is much more to this case relating back to a very dark time in Montreal’s past.
The book opens with diary passage from the past.  It is a very good, somewhat heartbreaking, chapter that compels you to keep reading. The diary is a second story line which is tantalizing and intriguing.  We don’t know how it fits, but we are certain we’ll find out.  And do we ever.  In fact, it provides for a very good twist at the end; one we should have seen coming, but didn’t.  It is very well done.
How nice to have characters with professions that are different from what we ordinarily find.  It is also refreshing to have a protagonist who is in a normal married relationship and a stepmother, with all both of those entail.   Martine, is the publicity director for the City of Montreal and her husband, Ivan, is the director of poker operation for the Montreal Casino.  It’s also nice to have a protagonist who decides to solve the murder on her own, but is brought into the investigation because of her job and is a somewhat reluctant investigator.  One can also appreciate that Det-Lt. Julian Fletcher, the young, wealthy, attractive detective with whom Martine works, is not a love interest for her. 
One can’t help but appreciate Martine’s humanity and empathy; worrying about one victim’s cat and, for another, “I wondered if she’d ever gotten her tomatoes, and what recipe she had needed them for.”
The author has a wonderful voice and dry sense of humor; “Every day is a special day for those of us whose professions are to provide fun and frolic to others.”  She is very good about explaining the structure of the Canadian government and its police force in a way that is clear to all readers, as well as translating the French phrases as she goes. 
De Beauvoir creates very good escalation of tension, as the story progresses, and Martine and Fletcher make the link between the victims through investigation, rather than coincidence.  The tension, and a way to bring normality to Martine’s life, is offset through food; and wonderful food it is…”Ivan was pan-frying flounder, I was cooking green beans in garlic butter…pouring some of my glass of Pouilly Fumé into the beans…”  The author also makes you think with excellent passages as to why it is important to seek justice for crimes from the past, Martine’s introspection about her faith, and her description of cemeteries. 
Up to page 263, the book would have received a rating of "Excellent."  It was compelling and exciting, with great characters.  Unfortunately, at that point it felt as though the author realized she only had a certain number of pages left to finish the story and things rather fell apart.  The character committed the sin of being TSTL (too stupid to live), and there were a couple major gaps in logic.  One understands why it was done, but it was still disappointing and could have been reconstructed to have achieved the same goal without the faux-pas.   It also felt there should have been a much stronger final, post-climactic scene. 
Finally, the curse of the portent…”Maybe you’re right, maybe there’s nothing here.”  But, as it turned out, there was.”  There was no need for the last sentence.  Why do authors do that?  Rather than build anticipation—we already know things will get worse; it’s a mystery!—they do just the opposite.  Portents are a quick jolt out of the story; they are unnecessary, and if anything, they are an implied insult to the reader as though we don’t understand the suspense will build and must be teased to continue reading.  There is never a need for portent in a story and de Beauvoir used them as liberally as some use salt on their food. 

Asylum” is, for the most part, a very good read and certainly not one I’d wanted to have missed.  No, it’s not perfect; yes, the author needs to hone her skills but I, for one, am very happy to have read it and look forward to another book, sans the weaknesses, in the future.

ASYLUM (Trad. Mys – Martine LeDuc – Montreal, Canada – Contemporary) – G+
De Beauvoir, Jeannette – 1st mystery
Minotaur Books; March, 2015

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