Islands, of the mad

[four weeks from today…]

Not to give any spoilers here, but…parts of Island of the Mad take place on, you know, islands. And a rather surprising number of those islands are inhabited by the certified insane.

Yes, lunatic asylums, in the Venice lagoon. Who knew?

Well, I did, for one, before I went last year. I was drawn to the idea of a book set in Venice—well, obviously: who wouldn’t be?—but in reading up on the city and its lagoon, I came across some interesting places. A fine hotel overlooking the San Marco Basin; Cole Porter’s summer rental on the Grand Canal; the most expensive hotel in Europe on the Adriatic side of the Lido—but also a startling number of islands that once held manicomios—mad houses.

One of those, San Servolo, was for men, and now has a truly fantastic hotel/conference center (next time I go to Venice, I want to stay there) alongside a very nice church and a fascinating museum of the island’s early 20th century insane asylum. The whole is set in a pleasant garden—gardens being rare in Venice—that both provided medical herbs and no doubt offered balm to wounded spirits.

Another, visible from those San Servolo gardens, is San Clemente—formerly the women’s asylum, now a luxury 5-star hotel that could be pretty much anywhere in Europe.

And a third was Poveglia, now abandoned, subject of on-again off-again sale to a developer…or will the residents save it…no they won’t…but maybe the courts will intervene…

All three places play a role in Island of the Mad, be it evoking Lord Byron’s

Dashing Lord B

swim across the lagoon—from the Lido all the way up the Grand Canal in under four hours (nowadays, he’d be cut to ribbons by motorboats)—or describing the prison of Mussolini’s inconvenient first wife

Ida Dalser, with thanks to Evie Farrell

or exploring a private asylum hosting…

Ah, but that would count as a spoiler, so that’s all you’ll get here.

One of those islands in particular has proved a rich source of gossip about haunting, with a Ransom Riggs (the Miss Peregrine author) article and Tumblr feed, a piece in Atlas Obscura, and videos aplenty ranging from a 2016 group tour of Poveglia in two parts (better with the sound off) to a narrated helicopter fly-over posted during the recent attempts at fund-raising.

Nowhere is there an indication that Russell or Holmes visited—but we know better, don’t we?


Where to pre-order your copy of Island of the Mad?

US edition—signed from Poisoned Pen Books; signed from Bookshop Santa Cruz; from your local Indie; from Amazon/Kindle; from Barnes & Noble/Nook.
UK edition—from Allison & Busby; from my friends at Heffer’s.
And the audio download here.


  1. Isabella on May 16, 2018 at 11:56 am


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