BOOK CLUB: Murder at the Dunwich Asylum

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Murder at The Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurecht is a historical, crime, murder mystery set in 1884. It is a thrilling read that keeps you guessing until the end.

The book also gives you a clear picture of what life in an asylum in Australia was like in the 1880’s.
The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was on Stradbroke Island, Queensland. It served as an institution for the poor, destitute, old, ill, alcoholic and insane.

On the morning of the annual visit by Justice Callahan to inspect the asylum, the body of an inmate is found hanging from a Morton Bay tree. It is Emily May Baker, the youngest female inmate. Superintendent Holloway declares it a case of suicide, and is desperate to finalise the paper work before Justice Callahan arrives. Unfortunately for Holloway, Dr Hamish Hart arrives with the Justice. Hamish has been given permission to remain for a week and write an article for the paper and report on the Asylum.

When Dr Hamish Hart views Emily’s body he declares that it is not suicide, but murder. As Hamish looks into Emily’s life on the Island, he finds that she is not the typical inmate of an asylum. He writes to his friend Rita, also a Dr, about Emily’s case and asks her to find out more about Emily’s life in Brisbane.
Rita is keen to get justice for Emily and gains permission to join Hamish and also report on the running of the asylum.

Emily’s lover is found hanging from the same tree. Is it suicide or is it murder?

Hamish discovers that the visiting Justice is only shown some of the wards. There are other areas of the asylum where inmates are kept in horrific conditions. Hamish is amazed that the superintendent is not required to have medical knowledge.

His investigation and reports are making him unpopular, as some staff would lose their jobs if reforms are made.

There is tension between the white inmates of the asylum and the Aboriginal community of Myora, which is situated nearby. A number of Aboriginal people are employed at the asylum.

As Hamish and Rita uncover the asylum’s dark secrets, and are getting closer to the truth, their lives are also in danger. Will they solve this mystery and both get off the Island alive?

The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was operational from 1865 to 1946. The setting for this story is real, the characters are fictional.

The author Dr Karen Thurecht has a PhD in medical anthropology. The characters of Hamish and Rita are so likable. The medical situations are well researched and realistic.

This book is the first in “The Dr Hamish Hart Mysteries” series. I loved this book and can’t wait to read the next book in the series, “Plantation Murders”. Who knows, maybe this will be a TV series one day!

Thankyou to Shawline Publishing Group and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this great book.

ISBN: 1922444308
Copy Courtesy of Shawline Publishing Group

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Murder at the Dunwich Asylum by Karen ThurechtYou can read their comments below, or add your own review.

20 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Murder at the Dunwich Asylum

  1. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read “Murder at the Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurect. I enjoyed this story and am glad to ear its the first in a series. I look forward to the next instalment.
    It was a lucky day for the inmates when Hamish Hart came to the island. The story kept you guessing until the end when you find out who th the killer is.
    Its terrible to think that this place really existed.

    1. Hi Carla, Thank you for your fantastic review of Murder at the Dunwich Asylum. I agree, it is frightening to think that places like the Dunwich Asylum once existed. And that this was the beginning of our aged care system! All the best, Karen

  2. Murder at the Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurecht was a really good book. Hamish, the lead character was not a know-it-all detective. He was just a kind, caring person who knew something was not right and he had to do something about it. There was no DNA collection, no finger printing and no internet to look things up, Hamish and his friend, Rita, just had to use their brains to solve the mystery. I believe this is the first book in a series and I will definitely be looking out for the rest when they are published. Thank you Beauty and Lace for letting me read this book >:o)

    1. Hi Simone, I’m so happy you liked Hamish as he is – a kind, caring person – who maybe sticks his nose into other people’s business a little more than he should. But thank goodness he does haha!. Thank you so much for the review. I appreciate it. Best Wishes, Karen

  3. Book Review – Murder at the Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurecht.
    Thank you @beautyandlacemag and the Shawline Publishing Group for the opportunity to review this amazing ebook. I read this novel in four days and that tells you how much I was enthralled with the story.
    What an incredible start to her story – wow, Karen, you had me on page one!
    The local relevance is brilliant and character introductions are perfection.
    It was a breath of fresh air reading this lovely story with so many local references.

    Set in 1884, in an asylum at Dunwich, a visiting doctor, Hamish, arrives to do some research. The super, Mr Holloway, is wary of him given his unannounced arrival. The asylum breeds its own cattle pigs and sheep, for food, and accommodation is entirely voluntary. Nobody pays the asylum a visit and that’s the way the super likes it – no questions asked.
    Hamish’s inspection of the wards was initially positive, and nothing alarmed him. It appeared to be run smoothly and the ward was clean. Later he discovered that he was only shown the few better wards, and not the neglected ones. Eventually, he takes himself to the other wards, where the disgusting environment for the most aggressive patients shocked Hamish but he felt helpless to intervene.
    The visiting doctor tries to investigate a recent death of a female inmate and is brushed aside with every attempt to source information. He makes an unlikely friendship with the asylum’s cook and together they gather evidence to find the truth of the goings on. He discovers the death of her partner was also disturbing and he adds that to his investigations.
    This book has a lovely appreciation of the traditions and ceremonies of the aboriginal people in the quest to solve the double murder mystery. Hamish writes to his friend Rita to come to the island and help him with his work. Another person snooping around the workings gave rise to an intentional push for both Hamish and Rita over a cliff face that renders both of them badly injured and wary that they were in the firing line of an attempted murder, despite it proving to be very difficult to establish who was where at the time of the incident.
    All gets sorted in the end, and I highly recommend this one.

  4. Murder at The Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurecht, (Shawline Publishing) is an eerie and dark glimpse into the past. And It is a very well researched, and well paced historical mystery.

    The asylum in question actually existed in the 1800’s and accommodated the destitute, sick, mentally disturbed, and the aged – basically anyone deemed not fit for mainstream society – the social outcasts! It was news to me that such a place had existed on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay, but apparently it was there for quite some time.

    Set against this background, young Dr Hamish Hart ( and later, his friend and colleague Dr Rita) become caught up in uncovering the circumstances surrounding the hanging deaths of one of the asylum’s inmates – Emily Baker, as well as her Aboriginal lover, Simon. Was it a double suicide or were these deaths actually murder, covering something up? And what involvement, if any, was there from the local Myora Aboriginal community?

    Largely left to themselves in an isolated area, it is up to Drs Hamish and Rita to find out what is actually happening at the Dunwich Asylum.

    An interesting and revealing foray into a largely unknown area of Queensland’s history with a fascinating story and colourful characters who bring these unfortunate times to life!

    1. Hi Lyn, Thank you for your thoughtful review of Murder at the Dunwich Asylum. I’m so glad you enjoyed it – and learned something about the asylum at the same time. I appreciate the time you have taken to read the book and write a review. It has made my day, now I hope you have a lovely day as well. Karen

  5. Murder at the Dunwich Asylum, first book in the series by Australian author Karen Thurecht is a poignant dark murder mystery.

    1884, Dunwich Asylum located on North Stradbroke Island, Moreton Bay a young woman by the name of Emily May Baker is found hanging from a tree. Superintendent Holloway declares her death as a suicide. When her lover is found hanging from the same tree suspicion arises.

    Doctor Hamish Hart arrives with his comrade Rita to investigate the hangings, he rules out suicide and declares it a murder. The unravelling of the asylum begins and the hunt for the killer.

    The characters, whether side or main, have certain unique attributes that make them memorable. They are exceptionally well developed, making it easy for me to imagine each scene and feel their emotions.

    Karen Thurecht has created a fascinating mystery that grabs you with its unique plot. There is a lot of suspense that begins in the first chapter and continues to the conclusion. I loved how the story was based around Dunwich Asylum, which added an unsettling image of the place that holds the story together.

    There were plenty of twists and turns, but nothing is left unsolved, all the pieces of the jigsaw fall nicely into place which made it an enjoyable read. It is one of those books that makes you turn the pages, wanting to know what is going to happen next. I read it in one sitting, unable to put it down.

    I can only describe the story as enthralling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one.

    Thank you, Beauty and Lace and Shawline Publishing for the opportunity to read and review.

  6. This is a really great book
    There actually was an asylum which opened in 1865 and ran to 1946 on North Stradbroke Island
    Dr Hamish Hart is researching asylums he arrives and is with Justice Callahan who is on a planned visit,
    That morning a body is found a young patient Emily Baker is the victim, the authorities at the asylum have said it is suicide, Dr Hart says no it is murder
    Another hanging occurs but once again is it murder or suicide
    Dr Harts friend Rita arrives on the island with news on Emily’s past
    Some of the wards at the asylum are horrendous as Hamish and Rita discover
    An attempt to silence Hamish and Rita fails as they are getting to close to the truth ( no spoilers )
    I am really looking forward to reading the next book in this series

  7. Such a compelling book! I had no idea about the history of Stradbroke Island and the Benevolent Society Asylum there. Isn’t it amazing what you learn from fiction?! Dr Hamish Hart was a terrific young hero/sleuth – sort of forced into that situation when he comes to investigate and report on Dunwich Asylum. The first morning he’s there a young woman, Emily, is found hanging from a tree. With everyone assuming it’s a suicide, Hamish discovers on examining the body that she was murdered. There is huge resistance to declaring this, as it just seems unbelievable, even when her lover is discovered the next morning hanging from the same tree. Is his death also suicide? Or another murder? Hamish is no top-shot detective, he just sort of stumbles around, trying to figure things out in the hostile environment. The asylum is described in stomach-turning detail, and some of the wards are extremely neglected; appalling environments with no medical care for these unfortunates. It’s a miracle some of the people are still alive, to be honest. With Hamish also reporting on this, it becomes almost a no-brainer to realise he’s going to be targeted for disclosing these dreadful truths – and for disclosing the murders?! When his friend Rita, herself qualified as a doctor, arrives on the island, they both become exposed to mortal danger. The sad mystery of the hanged girl and her lover is so compelling you just want to keep on reading. Are Hamish and Rita going to figure out the truth of the matter? And what’s going to happen to the conditions of those poor inmates at the asylum? All in all a very satisfying mystery to read – and the end indicates there might even be another mystery to come. Hurrah!
    Thanks to Beauty&Lace and Shawline Publishing Group for the chance to read this book.

  8. Murder at the Dunwich Asylum is set on Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Brisbane. It captures the area well and provides a glimpse into what life may have been like living in harsh conditions in the 1800s.
    I absolutely loved this book, partly due to my knowledge of Brisbane and Ipswich and the treatment of people who may be considered “too hard” to deal with such as the inebriated, elderly, disabled or people with mental health concerns. While in some ways it highlights the harsh treatment of such folk, it is also a reminder of the treatment of people today.
    The book is based around Dr Hamish Hart, a doctor who travels to Stradbroke Island to provide a report on Dunwich Asylum. Whilst there, he gets to know some of the island’s residents and the functioning of the Asylum. His investigation into the apparent suicides of Emily and Simon, the joining of his friend Rita and questioning his own beliefs about those he has met on the island creates a suspenseful and intersting journey of his time at the Island. The story jumps back and forward between Emily and Dr Hart and provides a fuller understanding on what lead Emily to come to the island.
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read “Murder at the Dunwich Asylum by Karen Thurect. I look forward to the next instalment of Dr Hart’s investigations!

  9. Incredible this book was fantastic. Set in the 1800s and with a lead character as charming as Hamish where could one go wrong. Can’t wait for the next book to come out

  10. This is the first in a series that I am reading. The Dunwich Asylum, whilst based on true circumstances, the characters are not, but it has opened my eyes to what happened at the turn of the century. At the beginning of each chapter is an excerpt relating to events which I liked. It was an easy read, easy to follow although at times I felt it was glossed over the true horrors that would have happened.
    Hamish was never the detective and unwittingly found himself involved in the murders at the island. His character was lovable, caring and a thoroughly good bloke. It would be interesting to know the back story on Rita and Hamish, perhaps that will show itself in the following books.
    Im looking forward to reading the next.

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