I’m one of the few people I know who reads history for fun. Not historical fiction, not mysteries set in other times—real history. It gives me a sense of perspective on current events, which allows me to not despair of the world; but it also is the source of really, truly great stories.
I’m not sure when I first learned about the “Duplessis orphans,” the children taken from orphanages and housed in asylums during the tenure of Maurice Duplessis as premier of Québec, but what I do remember is reading about Ravenscrag, that amazing Addams-family-mansion-on-a-hill that housed the CIA’s MK-Ultra program between 1957 and 1964… Somehow, somewhere in all that reading, I made the connection between the two.
I think that, at some level, we’re all fascinated by secrets, our own as well as those of others. Exposing someone else’s secrets has long been a staple of mystery fiction, and it seemed wholly logical to me to think that the brew of malfaisance taking place between Ravenscrag and the Cité-de-Saint-Jean-de-Dieu asylum would make for a secret that could seriously threaten someone’s well-being even sixty years later, and so Asylum was conceived.
I’ve always loved Montréal. I grew up in Angers, a city in France’s Loire Valley, but I’ve lived in the United States for long enough now for it to be clear that this is my home. And still, for those of us who grew up biculturally, there’s always a sense of longing for the “other” culture that never seems to go away. When I first visited Montréal, two years after moving to the States, I felt immediately at home: there’s a fusion of North American and French cultures—whether in language, food, entertainment, or literature—that makes Montréal who I’d be, if I were a city.
So obviously the combination of this city I love and a dark secret from its past made for an irresistible backdrop for a mystery novel! Most of the story, of course, takes place in the present, and here too I’ve tried to stay true to Montréal, to give a flavor for the various neighborhoods, the food that people eat, the places they go.
I’ve always thought of writers as opening windows that readers can look through, whether on an historical event, a place, or just the human heart. I hope that Asylum can do just that.
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 www.jeannetteauthor.com
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