MADWOMAN – By Paul Illidge

Set on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, 1999, MADWOMAN pushes the literary mystery novel into unique new territory. In her early 20s, smart, honest to a fault, fiercely independent and determined to prove to the justice system that she’s not the madwoman everyone is taking her for, Deirdre (“Didi”) Durand has had enough of the treatment she’s been subjected to in the cuckoo’s nest of a psychiatric hospital-for-women where she’s been a patient for two years. She plots and executes her escape one September afternoon, murdering the perverted hospital chaplain in the process. The hunt to capture her, dead or alive, is on.

Her step-parents, along with a band of colorful characters in the rural community where the hospital is located, rally to help Didi elude the big-city detective who’s been assigned to the local police detachment to track her down. His efforts are hampered by his unfamiliarity with the northern environment, by Didi’s baffling survival skills, her belief in her own innocence, her resolve never to be sent back to the madhouse psychiatric hospital and, above all, by the arrival of her identical-twin sister, Drisse. Several hours after the escape, there’s a second murder, Didi and Drisse the prime suspects.

Two local criminal gangs (drug, weapon and human traffickers with whom Didi has a violent history and who are embroiled in a turf war), are hunting for her as well: worth more to one gang if she’s captured alive, worth even more to the other if she isn’t. The trouble is, no one is able to outsmart her, certainly not with her identical twin sister on the scene, and the network of family and friends whom it becomes clear to the detective are aiding and abetting the two sisters.

The religious fanatic who runs the women’s psychiatric hospital (the murdered chaplain was her husband) — whom even the detective soon realizes is more lunatic than her patients — gets her hands on Didi and makes preparations to sell her to one of the criminal gangs. There’s a double-cross. The plan falls apart, the hospital director is murdered. A free-for-all ensues, both criminal gangs after her now, yet Didi, with the assistance of a friend, and an accident on the highway involving a moose, manages to pull off yet another disappearance and goes free, with $38,000 cash, a car and a foolproof disguise.

Ready to believe Didi’s side of the story, now that he’s learned what’s really been going on, the detective loses her through an unexpected turn of events to the criminals who want “the madwoman” dead. After 36 hours on the lam, cornered, nowhere left to run, Didi’s about to be killed when help arrives in the form of a mysterious seven-foot Indian who tries, for reasons of his own, to set her free.

A real-time narrative, by turns harrowing, humorous and moving, MADWOMAN is the story of a young woman who will do anything to be free.