Medea’s Curse by Anne Buist
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 4 stars
It’s always interesting to see people who have spent decades immersed in the mental health or emergency services fields try their hand at writing crime. At worst, it’s an experience in crime narratives as academic writing- informative but dry. At their best, though, they bring a depth and authenticity to the story that can’t be matched by simple research alone.
Anne Buist is an Australian crime writer who brings with her two and a half decades of experience as a perinatal psychiatrist, and a wealth of experience working with protective services and the legal system around cases relating to child welfare. Buist knows her way around issues of infanticide, kidnapping, and abuse, and that knowledge makes for one hell of a read.
‘Medea’s Curse’ is the first novel to feature forensic psychiatrist Natalie King, a hard-living, motorbike riding psychiatrist who helps women battle their demons while grappling with demons of her own.
Natalie is bipolar. It makes her perhaps a little too good at relating to the women she sees, women who often feel out of control or trapped in unwinnable situations. That empathy has garnered her a reputation for fighting a little too hard (and at times literally) for her patients.
Natalie’s work isn’t what you’d call easy. ‘Medea’s Curse’ sees her struggling to make progress with a client who may have killed her three children, while a case that almost cost Natalie her career seems to be coming back to haunt her. Even the prosecutor with a grudge seems to be suddenly interested in far more than vengeance. Life is more than a little insane, so when the first, vaguely threatening message arrives, Natalie pays it little notice.
But as the stakes grow ever higher, the tension between Natalie’s increasingly dangerous work, and the constant tightrope walk between sickness and health, make for a page-turning, edge-of-your-seat ride.
Buist is the sort of writer who pointedly refuses to call even her most abhorrent characters evil. Her stories aren’t about ‘evil for the sake of it’ characters; her characters are fully formed, flawed, and deeply sympathetic. Buist has removed the judgement around the potential villains, even as her lead character struggles to be so open minded at times. It would be easy, for example, to make a woman accused of murdering her three children into a heartless monster, rather than letting her be complex, damaged, and ultimately human. It’s hard to be sympathetic towards characters accused of infanticide, and yet, Buist makes sure her characters are more than simply black hat wearing caricatures, or the boogie-men of popular belief.
In an age where our media sensationalises such people, it’s refreshing to see writers taking a more open, honest approach to such discussions.
It’s understandable that society has an abhorrence for cases dealing with children, and it’s more than likely a triggering subject matter for some readers, so discretion is advised. But if you’re okay with exploring the murky grey areas of our mental health and legal systems, then ‘Medea’s Curse’ is a dynamic, enthralling first step into the world of a troubled forensic psychiatrist and the patients she encounters.
‘Medea’s Curse’ is published by Text Publishing, and is available through booksellers both online and off.