Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 March 2023 from Avon Books
My thanks to Avon Books for an advance copy for review
Dr Connie Woolwine has five days to catch a killer.
On a locked ward in the world’s highest-security prison hospital, a scream shatters the night. The next morning, a nurse’s body is found and her daughter has been taken. 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 girl – before it’s too late.
But as the walls close in around her, can Connie get the killer before The Institution gets her?
If this book isn’t a smash hit, I’ll claw my own eyes out. I don’t think I have read a genuinely scary book for such a long time. Fans of Helen Fields will already be aware of Dr Connie Woolwine and her now partner in crime, Brodie Baarda whom we met in The Shadow Man.
Connie is American and a psychological profiler. Brodie Baarda was a kidnapping specialist from Met Ops Team but is now an independent contractor working with Connie.
This time the pair has been called in to deal with an horrific crime (curiously the second such crime I have read this year) which can only have taken place inside the Charles Horatio Parry Institute for the Rehabilitation of the Criminally Insane.
This is a high security prison facility that houses some of the country’s most heinous criminals. These prisoners have been deemed to be psychiatrically unfit to be sent to a normal high security prison and so have been sent to what everyone there refers to as just ‘The Institution’.
A nurse from The Institution has been found murdered and her new born baby is missing. The clock is ticking if the baby is to be found alive but a crypto-currency ransom is being demanded and with the likely perpetrator being inside The Institution, Connie and Baarda go undercover at the behest of the nurse’s family to see if they can unmask the killer and get the baby back unharmed.
I said in my review of The Shadow Man that I hoped we would get to learn more of Connie’s back-story and Helen Fields delivers that here. But, by understanding some of what drives Connie, we find that we are only made more fearful by what she encounters.
She and Baarda go in under cover. Connie is posing as a psychiatric therapist working for the military and her patient is a high security risk prisoner known only as ‘Patient B’ and that’s the role that Baarda is taking on. Only the Governor knows who Connie and Baarda really are. The hope is that by working on both the staff and the inmates by taking a dual approach, Connie and Baarda can work out who perpetrated this terrible crime and find a lead to recover the missing baby.
The nurse who was murdered worked in Heaven Ward with the deadliest offenders and the highest staff to inmate quotient. The staff are not overly fond of their guests/clients/patients/prisoners. A young man called Boy does some of the more menial tasks and he takes to Connie and she to him as he’s the only one there with anything close to a cheery countenance.
From the beginning it is anything but plain sailing. There are some very creepy people in the Institution and that’s just the staff. The building is a horrible cold stone warren that rises bleak into the sky with different towers like some Castle of Doom. The surrounding area is all marshland miles from anywhere and the whole place gives off vibes of Frankenstein looked after by Nurse Ratchett.
Helen Fields makes The Institution a very scary place to be with simmering tensions abounding even before Connie arrives. Then she dials that gauge up until it reaches boiling point. As Connie sets about interviewing the inmates and staff to see how much she can learn by profiling them, it becomes very clear that others are watching her. Not everyone is without their suspicions about what Connie is really doing there.
Baarda too is finding it hard to get traction. To the staff he’s just another killer and they see no reason not to treat him as they do the others, whatever Connie might say. Our pair has landed in a pit of loathsome, demented vipers and pretty much everyone has fangs they are keen to use.
Helen Fields portrays evil characters really well and honestly, I felt the scariness of The Institution just as I understood how incredibly traumatic it must have been for Connie to find herself in some of the situations that she does. This is heart in the mouth time and you can hear the screams when things get to that boiling point I mentioned.
Add in some very rough weather and a break down in communications, a terrified and traumatised Connie and a Baarda who is elsewhere and you’ll be suspecting everyone – and with good reason.
Verdict: Helen Fields has written an absolutely mind-blowing suspense thriller with some great and truly horrible characters, a really twisty and ever changing plotline and a sense that maybe the inmates should be running the asylum. This is a book that evolves at break-neck speed taking the reader on a spine-chilling journey that will leave you trusting no-one and with your nerves shattered. As ever with Helen Fields, her characters are well defined and fascinating. This is one not to miss, but beware of reading with the lights out….
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An Amazon #1 best-selling author, Helen Fields is a former criminal and family law barrister. The last book in her Scottish set crime series, Perfect Kill, was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2020, and others have been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Scottish crime novel of the year. Helen also writes as HS Chandler, and wrote legal thriller Degrees of Guilt. In 2020, Perfect Remains was shortlisted for the Bronze Bat, Dutch debut crime novel of the year. Now translated into 20 languages, and also selling in the USA, Canada & Australasia, Helen’s books have won global recognition. Her historical thriller These Lost & Broken Things came out in May 2020. Her first standalone thriller – The Shadow Man – was published in 2021 and her second, The Last Girl To Die, in 2022. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and three children.
One thought on “The Institution by Helen Fields @ @Helen_Fields @AvonBooksUK”
Goodness, sounds terrifying! Great review.