Martine LeDuc is the director of PR for the mayor’s office in Montreal. When four women are found brutally murdered and shockingly posed on park benches throughout the city over several months, Martine’s boss fears a PR disaster for the still busy tourist season, and Martine is now also tasked with acting as liaison between the mayor and the police department. The women were of varying ages, backgrounds and bodytypes and seemed to have nothing in common. Yet the macabre presentation of their bodies hints at a connection. Martine is paired with a young detective, Julian Fletcher, and together they dig deep into the city’s and the country’s past, only to uncover a dark secret dating back to the 1950s, when orphanages in Montreal and elsewhere were converted to asylums in order to gain more funding. The children were subjected to horrific experiments such as lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and psychotropic medication, and many of them died in the process. The survivors were supposedly compensated for their trauma by the government and the cases seem to have been settled. So who is bearing a grudge now, and why did these four women have to die?
Not until Martine finds herself imprisoned in the terrifying steam tunnels underneath the old asylum does she put the pieces together. And it is almost too late…
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was researching Montréal's history and came across a list of people buried in one of the city asylum's cemeteries… but they were all children! That struck me as odd, and as I researched it more I discovered deeper secrets that could very well, I thought, have come back to haunt someone in the present, someone who might kill to keep them buried.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I knew I wanted to write about Montréal and about some of its history resurfacing after a lot of years. I almost always write female protagonists, so that was #1. I wanted someone who could conceivably get involved in an investigation, though not a police detective herself. So I happened onto the role of public relations director, someone who could conceivably have something to do with a wide swathe of intrigue: Martine LeDuc!
I suppose that there had been a life sometime before the orphanage, but I could never really remember it—not really, not as a whole. There were only scraps left, understanding a colloquial expression I couldn’t remember having heard before, a tune that wouldn’t get out of my head, a sense of something almost familiar lurking in my peripheral vision that disappeared as soon as I turned my head to look at it.
They say that you don’t remember anything before you’re four or five years old, but there are memories, I know there are, they just lack the clarity and specificity of more recent ones.
But there had been a time when I wasn’t at the orphanage. There had been a life. It was a small truth, but it was my only one. I had had a life, before.
And I knew that I was lucky in my truth. Some of the others, they’d been left with the sisters, the bonnes soeurs, as soon as they were born, baskets on the doorstep. No time for memories, there.
I even knew my mother. At least for a while. Until she got married, and didn’t come to visit anymore, drawing with her absence a line plainly and firmly beneath who she’d been, so that she could become who she needed to be.
Later, much later, I recognized how brave that was, her coming to visit me, being willing to see me at all. The sisters never tried to hide their disgust at—and contempt for—the moral lapse that had resulted in my conception, and I’m sure they made her continued presence in my life very difficult.
At the time, of course, all I knew was that I wanted her to return—but only so that she could take me away. Every time she came, I begged her to take me with her; I pleaded, crying, and she never did. I think—or maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, maybe I made this up so I could feel better, feel loved— that her plan was to marry someone who would understand. Someone who could come with her to the orphanage and pluck me out of the long dormitory room under the eaves and take me back to Verchères, the village upriver from Montréal in the Montrégie district where I had been, apparently, born. He would adopt me; we could be a family together.
But there were few enough men willing to marry a fallen woman, and fewer still anxious to raise her illegitimate child; after she married, my mother never came again.
I waited for her, of course; every time I could get to a window, I watched for her, waiting for my name to be called to the front parlor, disbelieving that she would abandon me. There had to be some sort of mistake. She would come again one day.
I don’t know that I ever really believed she wouldn’t.
I kept going back. For months, I kept going back, lurking by windows, hearing car doors slam and running with wings on my feet to see who had come. One of these days, it would be her; I was sure of it. One of these days she could come for me.
I couldn’t believe that I was something she needed to hide.
I should be grateful, I suppose, that she’d kept me away from the nuns for as long as she had. As long as she’d been able. Maybe she knew, in her heart of hearts, the lie behind the cloister door, that the bonnes soeurs—the “good sisters”—weren’t actually all that bonne.
Maybe she knew the truth behind that lie, that despite what parents and guardians were told in the polished front parlors, the children left with the nuns weren’t ever going to be put up for adoption, or educated, or really cared for at all.
It sounds like neglect, doesn’t it, when I write it like that? Like their sin (and trust me when I say that sin there was) was a sin of omission, not of commission. But not loving us, not caring for us—that was really only the beginning.
The rest was so very much worse.
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