ASYLUM by Jaennette de Beauvoir

A Sense of Place

When they begin thinking about their next book, many writers—especially mystery writers—start with a character. It’s important, obviously, to provide the reader with a person they can relate to, someone smart, attractive, funny, quirky—all the things that in our innermost secret places we wish we were more like.
Or, alternately, authors may begin with a plot, the sudden clear sense that an idea, even just a passing snippet of one, could be developed into an intriguing novel. A lot of writers have half-finished stories just waiting for the right time, place, and character to arrive to make them come alive.
Not me. I’ve always started with a place.
There’s a story—possibly apocryphal—about novelist Phyllis Whitney, whose romantic thrillers were situated in all sorts of exotic locales. The story goes that she would decide where she wanted to go next on vacation, and then use that place as the setting for her new novel. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it strikes me as an absolutely brilliant idea.
There’s a lot of interesting thought about how we’re connected to the spaces we inhabit, those we choose and those that are chosen for us, those we love and those we can’t wait to see the last of. I think it’s fascinating to consider those ideas. But they’re not why I write about place.
So why is it so important to me? Well, it’s partly to do with love, and it’s partly to do with context.
There are places I’ve lived, or stayed, or even just visited, that will always be with me; and so I have a natural tendency to want to share the love of that place with others, live there a little longer through writing about it.
The context issue is a little trickier to explain. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going somewhere—entering a house, crossing a bridge, walking down a street, climbing a hill—and being suddenly and inexplicably overcome with some sort of sensation that’s related to where you are. The locale is sending you signals, sometimes wonderful, sometimes frightening, always interesting.
And the truth is that the feeling is rarely wrong: if a place starts tugging at me, even if I don’t immediately feel any attraction to it, a little work will reveal the jewels that are just waiting for a creative spirit to come alone.

 I got the feeling the first time I visited Montréal—decades ago—and it continued to reverberate over the years that I kept going back, until it was clear to me that I needed to respond. And so I started not just enjoying, but really getting to know the city, which for me always involves starting with its past. And the more I read about that past, the more mysteries unfolded, a flower slowly unfurling its petals.
Were there a recorded history of the Iroquois settlement called Hochelaga, I suspect the first mysteries would have begun there. But let’s start in the spring of 1734 when arson destroyed a hospital and 45 houses on rue Saint-Paul. Criminal proceedings were soon underway against a slave called Angélique. Did she do it? Or was her lover, Claude Thibault, responsible? He decamped before anyone could find out.
Want more? Consider how in 1901 the foundations of Montréal’s wealthiest neighborhood were rocked when Ada Maria Mills Redpath and her son Cliff were shot in Ada’s bedroom in the Redpath mansion in Montreal’s affluent Square Mile district. What really happened there?

In 1978, at the basilica of Notre-Dame (where more than one scene in ASYLUM takes place), someone set fire to a confessional, causing millions in damages. During renovations, five stained-glass windows were found behind a brick wall. Why were they walled up and forgotten? Right down the street, another Notre-Dame church also had a disappearing stained glass angel. What was up with that?

And that’s just the beginning! There were a lot of reasons to keep exploring, explorations that led me to the story of the Duplessis orphans and the forbidding mansion known as Ravenscrag.

And that’s a mystery you can solve when you read ASYLUM!


ASYLUM is available from St. Martin’s/Minotaur: Women are being murdered in Montréal’s summer tourist season, and everything points to random acts of a serial killer—but it’s publicity director Martine LeDuc who discovers that the deaths reflect a darker past that someone wants desperately to keep hidden.

About the author: Jeannette de Beauvoir grew up in Angers, France, but now divides her time between Cape Cod and Montréal—as well as spending as much time as she can traveling and listening to the stories told by other places. Read more about her at

JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR is an award-winning author, novelist, and poet whose work has been translated into 12 languages and has appeared in 15 countries. She explores personal and moral questions through historical fiction, mysteries, and mainstream fiction. She grew up in Angers, France, but now divides her time between Cape Cod and Montréal. Read more at


Popular posts from this blog

Reunions: You Can’t Go Back Again (Because ‘There’ Is Gone) You hear about people going to Reunions: high school, college, family, war vets, et cetera. Well, not me. For example, my high school, St. Augustine’s Diocesan on Sterling Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was already out of business when the passenger jet made an unscheduled crash landing on its doorstep in the late 1960’s, erasing all prospect of reunions. No matter, I wouldn’t have been attending anyhow. As for St. John’s University College, whose ‘campus’ was in a seven-story former bank building on Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn---it’s condos now and even if the doorman would let me in for old times’sake, I’d pass. I spent all of 1956 and half of 1957 at St. Augustine’s as a transfer student, having come from a low-rent seminary that was supposed to prepare you to become a member of the Franciscan Order of Teaching Brothers. St. Anthony’s ‘Juniorate’ (odd name for a high school, right?), no doubt why we boys simply referred to it as ‘Smithtown’, located as it was in the Town of Smithtown on Long Island, among the potato fields of Suffolk County. My short story: I got kicked out after two years, told I was mistaken in thinking I had a ‘vocation’ (I won’t bore you with my sins). So how’d I get there in the first place? Well, you’re graduating from eighth grade in St. Anthony of Padua grammar school (same ‘St. Anthony’, no coincidence); you’re twelve years old and, since the age of five-and-one-half, been shuttled from the school to the looming red brick Church next door when the steeple bells summoned us to prayer. There, all us boys, in our dark-blue worstered trousers, white shirt and clip-on black tie, have been kneeling for all eternity on the hard wood kneelers in the pews in the Lower (basement) Church, interminably humming the five Decades of the Rosary amidst the fourteen Stations of the Cross, as the priest parades up and down the marble-floored aisles spewing swirls of sweet smoke from his incense-burner. No surprise then: After the Good Franciscan Brother reveals to our class that some among us may be ‘called’, on Easter Sunday, at Mass in the Upper Church, drunk on incense fumes, I actually see God point a long index finger at me through the fog, and over the swell of the organ while the choir pounds out the Hallelujah Chorus, I hear Him say to me, clear as a bell: “You! You! Pack your bags!” Upon graduation in February, 1954, I boarded the LIRR, Ronkonkoma Branch, with my ticket punched for Smithtown. One recent Sunday, in the grip of an irresistible impulse to see Smithtown once more, I get on the LIE and head for the North Shore of Long Island. To get to the school, you must drive through the hamlet of Kings Park, once home to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, which I see from my car on Route 25A, is still there, sprawling on top of a hill but empty, decommissioned. And I remember then being aboard the ancient yellow school bus, the name ‘St. Anthony’s’ painted in black on its sides--captive boys being taken to the movies in Kings Park on a Sunday afternoon more than half-a-century ago--the hospital full of life, the inmates hooting and hollering to us from their barred windows as we speed past. It’s a high point of the trip, riding past the Looney Bin: a happy feeling, I remember, as if them up there and us in our bus were connected. No more acres of potato fields as far as the eye could see along Rte. 25A now-- replaced by row upon row of suburban tracks, Divisions and Sub-Divisions. I drive onto the grounds of St. Anthony’s. It is not a functioning school, it’s obvious. There are some broken windows in the elongated two-story structure, and the white paint is peeling. I think of Iroquois Longhouses, I suppose because of the stretch of the building. I get out of the car and what strikes me is how small-scale everything appears: the buildings, the playing fields behind the main house, the grass badly in need of cutting. The chicken coops are gone as well as the fenced-in execution ground where I beheaded and plucked my first chicken for the Sunday dinner, on orders from the Brother in charge of the Refectory. Everything smaller than I remember it. For it’s vivid, larger-than-life in my memory. Jerome Megna, the pool shark; Joe Rogus, the polio-stricken basketball star; Bill Cullen, the gay librarian from Brooklyn and my best friend; the school’s principal Brother Henry, vain about his PhD in history; Brother Patrick “The Claw’, who taught Latin, had a crippled left hand and the DTs from drink; Brother Linus, the math teacher, who’d feel you up if you weren’t fast on your feet. I swear I remember them all, the faces and their names. I even remember the movie we saw that Sunday in Kings Park in 1954. The Bridges At Toko-Ri; William Holden, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney starring. I wrote the movie review for the school paper, The St. Anthony Star. Funny how it all stays with you. The important stuff.

Review of City of the Dead

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum, by Ron Benrey