Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over six years. She is a crime fiction Editor for an independent publishing company in London.
When Jan Hauger gets a job at the Dell nursery looking after the children of the parents incarcerated in the neighbouring asylum, St Patricia's (known to the locals as St Psycho's), he seems the ideal candidate. However, as the novel progresses we discover that Jan is not all he seems.
He's a loner, an obsessive and a man with lots of secrets. We're drip-fed details about an incident that occurred in Jan's past when he was working at another nursery – an incident involving a young boy in his care who went missing. We also become aware that the object of Jan's obsession, the singer Alice Rami, is a resident in the asylum, but is she the only reason why he wants to get into St Patricia's itself?
Johan Theorin first hit the Scandi crime scene in 2007 with Echoes from the Dead, which went on to win the Best Swedish First Novel and, on publication in the UK in 2009, the CWA John Creasey Dagger for the Best Debut Crime Novel. His second book, The Darkest Room, also won the Glass Key award for Best Nordic Crime Novel in 2008 and the CWA International Dagger in 2010. He's well known for mixing elements of the supernatural with the darker aspects of Nordic crime in his writing. The Asylum is a claustrophobic read. In Jan you have a protagonist who at times is difficult to like. He's secretive and appears mistrustful – not to mention mistrusting – but as aspects of his personality are opened up to the reader, you realise that he's desperately lonely and he has traumas in his past that still haunt him in the present. He draws comic books with superheroes and villains and you start to question where he gets his ideas from – are they drawn from his own life experiences – and is his devotion to being a nursery school teacher – his evident joy at dealing mostly with children – a sign of something sinister (an obvious thought in this day and age) or a genuine desire not to be judged? Children after all take most people at face value: 'All your troubles disappear when you look into the eyes of a child. They absorb all the light in the world, and it shines out of them.'
Yet Jan is not the only character that we start to distrust as it's revealed that he's not the only one with secrets. This is a novel that makes us question our own preconceptions about other people, not just ourselves. In telling Jan's story the reader has to consider various ideas: Can you ever fully accept responsibility for your own actions, or are you always going to try and justify yourself? Can you do bad things but only ever have good intentions? Is it human nature to jump to the wrong conclusions about someone based on a superficial knowledge of who they are, how they dress and how they seem? And, finally, how far would you go to right the wrongs of the past?