The inexorable rise of the tough,flawed female detective continues with Anne Buist’s novel Medea’s Curse. Anne Buist is a psychologist with years of experience and much of that experience is on show in Medea’s Curse, a book which examines the hot topic issues of post natal depression, why women kill and paedophilia.
Dr Natalie King is a forensic psychologist who works in a prison psychiatric ward, dealing with women who have been committed for infanticide and murder. Natalie is on edge herself, taking drugs to control her own mental illness and seeing her own mentor/psychologist, Declan. Natalie is also still recovering from a case which saw a woman she was treating jailed for killing her baby. When a case involving the same father and another missing child is brought to her Natalie cannot help but get involved. Despite knowing that it is a bad idea, and against the advice of her therapist, she agrees to help the police in the hope that this time she can achieve what she feels is justice.
At the same time, Natalie is juggling a number of other cases. There is Georgia, accused of killing her three children, who has been diagnosed by one of her colleagues as possible having multiple personalities. And there is Jessie, who she is seeing in her private practice, possible a victim of some sort of abuse trying to resist the urge to harm herself. And if all this is not enough, Natalie is juggling a singing career, having an affair with a married man and also finds herself being stalked.
Natalie King herself is a great character. She drinks hard, she rides a motorbike, she sings in a pub rock band and she has no regrets. As far as her relationships go, they are short and dangerous and if the other party is married that is their problem to work out, not hers. But she is also has a desire to really understand her patients and bring justice. Much of the second half of the novel revolves around Natalie’s struggle between her ethics as a psychologist and her need to see justice done as the cases she is working on start to collide.
Medea’s Curse is an interesting read, dealing intelligently and compassionately with topics that many would shy away from such as the bond between mothers and their children, and personality disorders. Buist helps deliver her exposition of these issues using comparisons with other fiction dealing with these issues such as The United States of Tara (multiple personality disorder) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (mother/child bond). The amount of dialogue focussed on psychological conditions and what might cause them does impact on the pacing of the plot but not enough to derail the thriller elements.
Medea’s Curse is a book jammed packed with incident and in the end it becomes overburdened by plot. There are just too many coincidences to bring the whole together in a way that does not feel contrived. But it is overall an effective and engaging crime novel, that handles its issues compassionately, builds tension well and has a fascinating, flawed protagonist. It will be interesting to see what Anne Buist (and Natalie King) do next.