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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Hospital Hill is an historical mystery novel written by Katherine Anderson. Northampton State Hospital was Valerie Martin’s first place of employment. Working in an asylum had not been the Smith graduate’s plan for a career. Valerie had planned on using her degree in Education and English to get a teaching job at one of the local schools, but she hadn’t put enough effort into it, and money was running low. Her roommate, Susan, told her about the job openings for workers at what many called the “looney bin.” The trip up Hospital Hill to the looming Victorian edifice was a familiar one to just about everyone in town for winter sledding, but this time it felt different. Valerie did get that job, and it wasn’t until fifteen years later that she accepted the Department of Mental Health’s offer to transfer her to Westborough State Hospital. Now she was returning, albeit reluctantly, to assist the state in cataloging patient reports from the old asylum. Bill Dunston, a former coworker, had contacted her with the request. Valerie had mixed emotions both about going back to Northampton and working with Bill again. There had been some tension between them over Dr. Robert Willard’s advances to Valerie, and those memories still lingered in both their minds.
Katherine Anderson’s historical mystery novel, Hospital Hill, is a fascinating and suspense-filled tale set in one of the country’s largest mental institutions, known in earlier times as an insane asylum. Seeing the asylum and its inhabitants through the eyes of Valerie Martin is an illuminating and profound experience as she’s blessed with the ability to see past the sackcloth dresses and instability to the humanity of those women she comes to care about. As she’s compiling the patient records thirty years later, she begins to piece together dark secrets that she had repressed and to see patterns that are horrifying and infinitely sad. Anderson’s characters shine out in this suspenseful and well-written historical novel. She guides the reader through the labyrinthine passageways of the old state hospital and gives them insights into the history those buildings contain (over 64,000 patients would be admitted from its opening in 1858 until it closed in 1993). Her plot is well-constructed and original, and her writing is a joy to read. Hospital Hill is most highly recommended.