Trigger Warning: This book involves themes of mental health, mothers who kill their children as well as child abuse. This review does not dwell on the specifics of any, but all are mentioned. For people who need to discuss these matters further, Lifeline can be contacted on 13 11 14.
Medea’s Curse is brilliant. For much of the book Buist’s main character Forensic Psychiatrist Natalie King is involved in a massive juggling act: of her clients, of her personal life, of her past. And she is being stalked by someone who means business. It is a sometimes manic ride.
As the first book of which I am guessing will be a series, King is introduced to the reader beautifully – letting us know what we need to know as we need to know it. In some ways King is a bit stereotypical – a strong, sassy professional – but when have crime readers let stereotypes get in their way? On the novel line, King has her own mental health issues, is the default owner of a cockatoo that quotes Bob Dylan, and on weekends sings in a pub band.
The discussion of mother’s who kill their children is handled sensitively. There is mention of the titled Medea as well as real life cases and these are intertwined with King’s clients. Throughout the novel Buist presents us with any number of reasons as to why this crime might take place. Further, there is a range of ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’, or even culpability, in the cases that King is handling. Even the legal difference between infanticide and murder has ramifications in relation to sentencing and this becomes relevant to a character.
Sexual abuse of children is a large theme that is unavoidable and, like the above discussion is handled very sensitively. It is only in one small scene that Buist provides specific details of the crime, and to be fair even then much the focus is on the reaction of the child rather than what is being done to her. Nonetheless, those couple of sentences were confronting and I needed to put the book down for a few minutes to decompress. It was unpleasant and I am not pretending otherwise but in many ways I would argue that it was in context and necessary to the book.
Setting that one incident aside, this book is not part of the popular crime porn category where writers seem to try to outdo themselves with blood or maggots or psychopathic motives. Sadly these characters and their circumstances seem very real. On a more positive side, so do the rest of the characters that populate the book whether they be the police officers, office staff or pub mates. Even more so, King appears very well written and definitely goes beyond a two-dimensional character. I particularly look forward to spending more time with her in future reading.
Unlike most crime novels that provide little past a good read, Buist seems to enjoy challenging the response of readers to issues already mentioned as well as the overall nature of truth v justice: what is to be done when the community response to a circumstance may not correlate with a court’s response; how does motive or background change things; is it alright to do wrong to get a right outcome; and what is truth anyway.
As is obvious from my opening line, I really enjoyed this book – the characters, the storyline, the ending – which I am not even going to touch on – all of it. Due to some of the themes, and a relatively detailed sex scene, I perhaps would be careful in passing it onto younger readers but you would know the person better than I do. I appreciate that a lot of YA fiction includes sex scenes and this book could prove to be a great conversation starter on the ethics of circumstances which, in many ways, we see in the newspapers ever day.