Book Review

The Institution

The Institution

  • Author: Helen S. Fields
  • Genre: Mystery/Thriller
  • Publication Date: March 2, 2023
  • Publisher: Avon

Thank you to NetGalley and Avon for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: murder, blood, fetal abduction, grief, mention of physical and psychological abuse, stigmatizing language towards mental illness (challenged at times), misogyny, suicide, violence, gore, forcible medicating, mention of childhood physical and sexual abuse, mention of homophobia, mention of bullying

To beat them, she’ll have to join them…

On a locked ward in the world’s highest-security prison hospital for the criminally insane, a nurse has been murdered and her newborn baby kidnapped. A ransom must be paid, and the clock is ticking.

Forensic profiler Dr Connie Woolwine is renowned for her ability to get inside the mind of a murderer. Now she must go deep undercover among the most deranged and dangerous men on earth, and use her unique skills to find the baby – before it’s too late.

She has five days to catch the killer.

But with the walls of The Institution closing in on her, will her sanity last that long?

I’m hooked on Fields books ever since stumbling across one in the library a few years back, and I’ve really gotten to like the character of Dr. Woolwine and her partner, Brodie Baarda. I had pretty high expectations for this novel, and Fields didn’t let me down.

I was hoping that the locked ward setting of a high-security prison hospital for the criminally insane would be relatively realistic, and while I haven’t ever worked on a locked ward for criminal mental health offenders, I have worked in residential mental health, and this setting definitely brought back echoes of my own employment. There’s a mix of people who genuinely want to help others and people who have been so worn down by the work and the system and the overall hopelessness of rehabilitating people that they’ve become jaded. Also, there’s some element of the prison system that draws in cruel people who seem to revel in gaining power over those who are powerless. And this is reflected well in the staff portrayed in the novel.

The way that Dr. Connie, as she goes by in this novel, prefers to get to know the patients, isn’t by reading their charts, but by meeting with them and allowing them to tell their own stories. However, some of the stories were publicized, and that influences her understanding of who they are, but it was intriguing to see them tell their own stories, not just in the crimes that they committed, but also the factors that influenced their upbringing and personalities. However, this also falls into the trap of allowing them to manipulate the narrative, and it ultimately falls up to Dr. Connie to decide what to believe and what to discard. 

The Institution, as it’s known, is an imposing structure set in a remote and inaccessible location, WIth the body of Tara Cameron being discovered quickly, and the pre-term baby going missing, Dr. Connie and Brodie go deep undercover to catch the killer and find the baby in this innovative twist on a locked room mystery with the traditional terrifying twist that’s unique to Fields books. I loved how it set things up for the twists, and while I didn’t see them coming, once they were revealed, I could see how events paved the path for them all along. I suspected one of the characters of being involved in the murder, and I was right, but I never guessed how it all panned out.

This story is full of chills and surprises, and all I can say is don’t expect to sleep while reading this. It worms its way into your thoughts and will keep you awake, wondering what is going to happen next, and if they will be able to find the baby in time, as well as whether they’ll catch the killer, in a ward full of the country’s worst serial killers. As always, one of her best books yet, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of Connie and Baarda in the future.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 24

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