A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
The first thing that draws you in about A Madness So Discreet is the cover image which features a young women in the throws of despair being grabbed by unknown tormentors and dragged ever downward. From the first page I too was grabbed and dragged downward into a world of terror. Not the bump-in-the-night kind of terror, but real world terror. Grace Mae is young woman who finds herself in an asylum for the insane and the socially unwanted. There are patients who believe their veins are filled with writhing spiders, there are those who scream non-stop at unseen horrors and then there is Grace, whose only apparent malady is being pregnant out of wedlock. Set in a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote, Grace’s illegitimate pregnancy could ruin the social standing of her wealthy family, especially her senator father. So while her friends believe she is on an extended European vacation, Grace has been given a 9 month sentence in purgatory. Grace wasn’t mad when she arrived, but living among the insane has taken its toll on her. And when she physically lashes out at the asylum’s director Grace’s predicament goes from bad to much, much worse.
Grace is banished to the asylum’s cellars a place reserved for the most hopeless inmates, where she is nearly lobotomized by the unconventional young Dr. Thornhollow. But Dr. Thornhollow recognizes the intelligence in Grace who should be anywhere but the pits of the asylum. With his help, Grace escapes the confines of the asylum, but not without a great cost. Grace must act the part of Thornhollow’s insane patient permanently if she wants to gain her freedom.
Thornhollow is not a doctor with a pleasant bedside manner. He is interested in processes, not people. He helps Grace escape the asylum not out of sentimentality, but because he identifies Grace’s keen observation skills and thinks they may come in handy in his work. Thornhollow is a 19th Century criminal profiler and he wants Grace to play Holmes to his Sherlock. Just like Sherlock, Thornhollow is brilliant but flawed. Grace believes herself damaged far worse than the sad souls Thornhollow lobotomizes in his grimy basement operating theater. Serving as his assistant could not possibly be worse than what she has already suffered. But once Grace is bound to Dr. Thornhollow indefinitely, she wonders if she has traded one cage for another.
“If it was darkness you feared I would turn to while in his employ, fear not. The darkness has long lived in me, sown if not by my nature then by nurture.” –Grace Mae
A Madness So Discreet begins in the dank basement confines that hold its characters hostage but morphs into another tale entirely as we leave the asylum’s subterranean world for the cruelty above ground. We soon get to see the duality of Grace: the person she is and the person she must pretend to be. In public she must play the beautiful but dimwitted patient of Dr. Thornhollow; only as an accessory, an object not even permitted to speak. But in private she is his pupil free to speak her mind to Dr. Thornhollow who encourages Grace to share her theories and observations. And speaking her mind is a freedom Grace didn’t even have in her life before the asylum. But even though Grace has escaped the asylum basement, she has not escaped the dark secrets that dwell within her. Secrets that may be her undoing.
Mindy McGinnis deftly weaves social commentary with suspense, mystery and Gothic horror in this riveting novel. A Madness So Discreet shows us that some monsters prefer the light of day instead of hiding in the shadows and the line between madness and sanity as well as good and evil, can be a shifting one.