Asylum Lake - Review

Memories are like water. Some float on the surface bright and clear. Some lie deeper - blurred by time and distance. Others rest far from the light in the depths of the darkness. These memories are best forgotten. At the bottom of Asylum Lake the unremembered are growing restless.

After the sudden death of his wife, Brady Tanner moves to the small Michigan town where he spent summers as a youth. But he soon learns that small towns can be stained by memories…and secrets too. As Brady is drawn into unearthing the secrets of the town and of the abandoned psychiatric hospital on the shores of Asylum Lake, he discovers a new love in an old friend. But there is an evil presence lurking beneath the waters of the lake. What is the source of this evil–and what does it want with Brady Tanner?

I was intrigued immediately by R. A. Evans’s novel’s synopsis. It sounded right up my street. And to begin with, it was. The protagonist Brady Tanner is a likeable character, and easy to get on side with, through flashbacks the reader starts to learn that there is something wrong happening at Asylum Lake, as it’s known by the locals, and as Brady remembers moments in his youth, and stories about family members, it becomes clear  that things have not been right in the town near the lake for some time, and a tone is set that is suitably creepy and dark, where you are not sure what is going on or where this story could lead.

However, there are many issues with the way the book is written which start to get in the way. Firstly, it is riddled with typos, accidental repeats of words, some awful formatting, which actually gets in the way of the story very literally near the start, and at one point a character even changes name. None of this is a deal breaker, and in most cases is easy to dismiss, but the problems continue, or at least they did for me.

As I got about a third of the way through, I started to feel like I was in Inception. The story kept going further back in time, through ever more flashbacks, and frankly it got confusing, especially when not all of the shifts in time were signposted, not to mention the fact that I started wondering what the relevance of the present day narrative was, it spent so long in the past. It does wrap up its timelines fairly well in the end if you stick with it, in a mostly entirely satisfying manner.

The ending however, is where I found my other big issues with the story. The tone seems to shift about three quarters of the way through. The tense, evil atmosphere that Evan’s has been building up to that point disappears almost entirely, to become more of what feels like an adventure with wise cracking do-gooders, and it’s really strange. I found it quite off-putting. A scene with a skeleton, that should be scary, is anything but, and it’s a shame, as if the initial tone had been maintained, it would have delivered more chills.

It’s also an ending that seems very rushed, and left me thinking ‘Oh, is that it?’ and I had quite a few questions floating about in my head. It deliberately withholds answers in order to push its sequel Grave Undertakings, and while I’m quite happy for stories to lead into sequels, this one just stops dead and says 'Buy the sequel if you want to know what happens.’ It’s like the way the last Harry Potter film was cut in two, only without the built in fan-base, and it feels a bit cheap.

I really wanted to enjoy this book, and intermittently I did. It has some great scenes, the characters Evans creates are likeable, and mostly believable, and the idea and setting are interesting too, but constant shifts in time, inconsistent tone, and a cheap ending all left me a bit disappointed. It’s not bad, but it is not what I was expecting, and I’m afraid it left me with no intention of getting the sequel.

Overall Rating: 5/10


Mimico Asylum

“One of the oldest and interesting group of buildings in New Toronto, are those on the grounds of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, built in 1888. It was originally a branch of the Toronto Hospital for the Insane (currently known as the Queen Street Mental Health Centre).  The hospital underwent several name changes, opening as the Mimico Lunatic Asylum, in 1911 it became the Mimico Hospital for the Insane, in 1919 it became the Ontario Hospital, New Toronto, and later renamed as the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital
Dr. Daniel K. Clark was the superintendent of the Queen Street Asylum during the inception of the Mimico Branch.  He worked closely with Kivas Tully, the provincial architect at the time, and Samuel Matheson, a landscape gardener, to design and create the village like setting on the 52-hectare site.  (Kivas Tully Drive was actually one of the street names considered when renamingKipling Avenue (south of the Lakeshore) to Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive.  (Toronto Staff Report, 2000/06/08)  Tully (1820-1905) was born in Ireland, and was the architect of Victoria Hall in Coburg, erected in 1860,  the former Trinity College, erected in 1852, and numerous other buildings across Ontario)
Dr. Nelson Henry Beemer became the first superintendent of the Mimico Asylum
The first occupants in 1889 were 10 male patients and 2 attendants from the Queen Street Asylum who were sent there to ready the institution for the influx of inmates.  Dr. Beemer was a strong believer in meaningful work as a form of rehabilitative therapy. But, like all other male and female asylum inmate labourers in Ontario during this period, none of these workers received any pay for their work. (
The Assembly Hall, located on the southeast corner of Kipling and Lakeshore, “was originally constructed using patient labour in 1897 to provide the residents of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital with a recreational facility and a place to come together as a community; as such, it served as a place of healing, celebration and worship. In the earliest days, the second floor of the Assembly Hall was used for performances and dances by the residents of the Psychiatric Hospital - and on Sundays the chairs were turned to face the chapel at the south end so the residents could worship.” (City of Toronto Council Report, 1998/03/04).
Cecilia Paine, an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, details in one of her papers, the landscape of the asylum grounds and how it was used during its time as an institution. The site also has a few pictures: Cecilia Paine - University of Guelph.  The hospital closed in 1979 and today, some of the grounds now form part of the Humber College Campus, with the Assembly Hall, owned by the City of Toronto, being used as a cultural community centre.  The gatehouse is now used as a shelter and assistance centre for abused women & children.  The Cumberland House, the head psychiatrist’s residence, is now the Jean Tweed Centre, an addiction treatment centre for women. The remainder of the grounds is now part of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.
I was provided the following photographs from a former resident of New Toronto, Mr. George Mallen. The first is an old postcard showing the asylum in 1910 during a cricket match. (Credit: Toronto Reference Library).  Mr. Mallen managed to capture a more recent cricket game again in the summer of 2003.
Cricket seems to have been quite the popular sport in the early 1900’s.  The sports news sections of the newspapers consistently provided reports of the matches, players and scores.  The Mimico Asylum Cricket Club seemed to be the team to beat in those days.  In fact, in August 1905, three of Mimico’s players were selected for the International Cricket team to play against the United States.  The players selected were:  F.W. Terry, F.C. Evans, and W. Whitaker.  (Toronto Daily Star, 1905/08/21)  Dr. Beemer, the superintendent of the asylum, was also an active member in the club, as well as a Mr. A.A. Beemer (I haven’t yet determined if he is a relation of the superintendent).
Another interesting story that I came across described the buying practices of food for the asylum.  The May 19th, 1900 edition of the Toronto Daily Star touts that the Ontario Government had the best system of meat supply in existence.  The article talks about how the buyer would scour the country to select the choicest of animals, which were brought to Toronto for slaughter.  The rough parts of meat were given to the Central Prison and the Mercer Reformatory while the tender cuts were given to the Queen Street and Mimico Asylums.  The asylums had their own farms and were self-sufficient for vegetables.  The Government contracted for everything else, such as potatoes and milk.  Bread was baked on the asylum grounds.  Tea and sugar were not contracted; they were bought on the open market.  What was once the farm at the Mimico Asylum is now the R.G. Filtration Plant.
By the late 1930’s, the hospital was in such a state of disrepair, it was described as a “firetrap” during an inspection.  In 1959, Dr. H.C. Moorhouse became the new superintendent and revitalized the entire facility. The Assembly Hall was used for square dances, religious services and local celebrations until the hospital closed it doors in September 1979.
In 1999, Teeple Architects and Lett/Smith Architects, with McBride Group Construction, began restoration on the Assembly Hall.  On Valentine’s Day 2000, Mayor Mel Lastman hosted the official groundbreaking. Opening celebrations were held during May and June of 2001.  Today, the Hall is a vital community centre, with rental facilities for both public and private use.
Given the buildings’ “looney” past, there are, not surprisingly, a few ghost stories that have risen up over the years.  Check out the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings’ website and the Para-Researcher’s of Ontario website.”