Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Strapped “Hospital for Horrors” a book that promises sensation becomes repetitive. Initially interesting in its history of the treatment of mad and violent criminals, it progresses to a catalogue of relevant murder and abuse, focussing on Carstairs, the state hospital in Lanarkshire.
The author’s sources range from records of other hospitals and Press archives to a long statement from a former Carstairs inmate. Erudite, intelligent and manipulative, Robert Mone, this last murderer, reveals much of himself where the author hides behind style and Carstairs itself: psychiatrists and governors, denies all access and interviews. Through conjecture and speculation the one fact that is indisputable is that too many of its patients, released as being of no further risk to society, come out to kill again.
The cover of Carstairs features a beautiful young man handcuffed between an officer with a face carved out of teak and a callow plain clothes man. This image carries a message more penetrating than the narrative with its “monsters and fiends indulging their wild lusts”. For nowhere is any attempt made to fathom the minds behind the motives for the acts listed here. Could Leslie’s indictment of Carstairs’ secrecy be less a case of the emperor’s new clothes – not that there is no secret about the hospital’s treatment of the criminally insane but that there is no treatment? There is only incarceration.
A disturbing book in the best tradition of tabloid journalism. The reader is left exhausted, smeared with the despair of the unbalanced and the anger of the desperate. If this is outweighed by empathy for the victims and their families there is at least a glimmer of understanding for the perpetrators.