Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
Man, I loved so much about this book, especially the beginning. Those opening chapters are so dark and terrifying, and honestly full of some gross and twisted scenes. Grace is surrounded by some truly terrible people with power, and her situation is awful. Her family has locked her up in this asylum because she is pregnant with her father's baby and she's decided to just stop talking and to just give up on life. She will not be going back to her family's home.
The scenes in the asylum are made that much worse because you know much of it is absolutely accurate. Mental hospitals were, historically, places often filled with cruelty. People with no actual mental problems were locked up and lost forever. People who truly needed help were exposed to cruel and inhumane "treatments." This is the kind of place where pregnant Grace ends up, and where she loses her voice (and her mind, a little) to escape both her memories and her realities.
The second major plot development has her leaving Boston to help another doctor solve crimes by using psychology and "thinking like the killer," which Grace seems to have some affinity for. To help him, she ends up living in another mental hospital, but one much kinder than the one she left, and pretending to be a patient. She meets several other patients and forms close friendships with them. I think those friendships were some of the most beautiful parts of the novel.
The solving-the-crime part of A Madness So Discreet is not particularly exciting or captivating, and is wrapped up too neatly. The writing is quite lovely, though, and I did love watching Grace's story unfold and open up. She starts in such a dark place, and I loved taking this journey with her. I don't know if there will be a sequel to this, but I'd definitely read one.