Book Review: The Asylum by Johan Teorin

cover27382-smallTitle: The Asylum

Author: Johan Theorin

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

We don’t talk about sick or healthy people at St Patricia’s. Words such as hysteric, lunatic and psychopath… They are no longer used. Because who amongst us can say that we are always healthy?’

An underground passage leads from the Dell nursery to Saint Patricia’s asylum. Only the children enter, leaving their minders behind. On the other side are their parents – some of the most dangerous psychopaths in the country.

Jan has just started working at the nursery. He is a loner with many secrets and one goal. He must get inside the asylum . . .

What is his connection with one of the inmates, a famous singer?

What really happened when a boy in his care went missing nine years ago?

Who can we trust when everyone has something to hide?

I’m a huge fan of psychological thrillers. Within the thriller genre, they rank second on my list, just below supernatural thrillers. So of course I was thrilled to get started on The Asylum. The book was originally published in Sweden and has since travelled all across the globe. With that much buzz going on, it had to be good. And it was, except that I was a tiny bit dissapointed. A lot of plot points here are based on random events and coincedences. I don’t believe in coincedences, and I think if a book has to rely on coincedences too much, that’s always a bad sign. Anyway, here we go.

Jan Hauger is a loner and a bit of an oddball. He arrives at St. Patricia’s, a psychiatric hospital, to take up a position as teacher. There’s a small school next to the hospital where kids of the patients are gathered. They get to visit their parents through an underground tunnel leading to Saint Patricia’s. As you can gather from the description, the setting is superb. It’s ideal for a psychological thriller. The asylum and the tunnel connecting the hospital and the school are well-described, creepy and chilling. But Jan has alternative motives for being there. He wants to get as far away from his past as possible. And he suspects someone he used to know is now a patient at the asylum. While everyone accepts Jan at face value, giving him the benefit of the doubt, the reader gradually learns more about Jan’s past. He isn’t as clear-minded as he appears. He hides dark secrets and menacing thoughts and soon enough, the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur.

St. Patricia’s, or Saint Psycho as it’s called by the local population, harbors a few secrets of its own. There’s a woman locked up who makes deranged picture books, and Jan is immediately intrigued by her. There’s a well known serial killer hiding behind its walls as well, and the teachers Jan works with aren’t as innocent as they seem either.

I liked Jan. Not as a person, of course, but as a character he had so much potential. We know right away, from his hasty and worried thoughts when the head of staff of St. Patricia’s asks for information on past teaching jobs that he did something bad in his past. This immediately made me curious, and practically hooked me to the book. Because apart from that, and the growing descent into Jan’s madness, this book isn’t actually THAT good. There are a lot of spots where the plot drags, or the character’s reactions seem so out of character. The author also seems convinced that anyone who works at an asylum must either be going insane themselves or have ulterior motives. Halfway through the book, everyone became a suspect. It was a bit tiring, and I kept thinking “not everyone has issues”. The characters are hard to get as well. We get a good picture of Jan, but the secondary characters are less developed. Like you paint a detailed painting of one person and use quick, vague strokes for all the others. Their motives aren’t clear either, not even when they’re explained. I kept asking myself “why”.

And then there’s the mystery about Jan’s past which, when it’s cleared up, is actually pretty dissapointing. Except that there’s another huge reveal at the end, which all made it interesting again. But at around 3/4 into the book, I began getting bored. The mystery wasn’t all that great, the plot dragged, the characters had no direction. Then the bomb exploded (not literally) and everything happened extremely fast, which was great. The ending was thrilling, fast-paced. Too bad the first half of the book wasn’t like that. I like a slow build up, but at times this was too slow.

All in all though, The Asylum had a lot of potential, but didn’t always deliver. It was an enjoyable read, and a different experience for once since we know right away the MC is hiding something. The book could’ve been darker, more sinister and more thrilling though.

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