Dark Asylum

E.S. Thomson (Beloved Poison) unveils another gruesome chapter in the life of Jem Flockhart as she looks into a murder in a lunatic asylum. A female apothecary in Victorian London, Jem has lived her entire life disguised as a man. She has no love for Angel Meadow Asylum, a dark, hulking facility whose halls echo with the screams of its disturbed inmates. However, when abusive, phrenology-obsessed superintendent Dr. Rutherford is found dead with his ears removed and stuffed into his sewn-shut mouth, his own calipers sticking out of his head, Jem and her best friend and roommate, Will Quartermain, investigate.

Dark Asylum does for Victorian psychology (if such a word even applies to practices of the era) what Beloved Poison did for Victorian medicine, exposing the ignorant cruelty and indignities inflicted upon the mentally ill during a time when the idea of taking patients outside for leisure was revolutionary. To Thomson's credit, she does not cast the asylum's inmates as villains or cretins, but rather focuses on the inhumane conditions and barbarous treatments they suffer, including forced lobotomies and restraint, and punishment with devices now considered instruments of torture. Chills come from the oppressive, violent atmosphere, gruesome urban legends told by impoverished Londoners and visits to graveyards and other settings dank and grim. Jem is quick-witted and sympathetic to the plight of people deemed insane, as she is an outsider in danger of winding up in an asylum herself if the wrong person discovers her deception. Smart, spine-tingling and sprawling, this second outing shows Thomson has the staying power for a long and delightfully grotesque series. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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