I’m back in the UK and I’m trying to catch up with quite a few things (not only around the house, car, etc, but also writing and translating) while I’m here, so I’m planning on taking the chance to revisit some posts that I want to share on my new blog. But I don’t want to let the reviews accumulate, as I’ve been reading a fair bit, so I’ll keep on sharing those.
You’ll realise soon enough why I was attracted to this book…
Medea’s Curse by Anne Buist A forensic psychiatrist in Australia. Mental health, abuse, death and professional boundaries.
Shortlisted for two Davitt Awards – Best Adult and Best Debut
‘A plot-twisting page-turner… I was completely gripped’ — Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing
‘A thrilling read that will have you on the edge of your seat’ — BuzzFeed
‘Keeps the reader guessing to the very last page’ — Lisa Hall, author of Between You and Me
Forensic psychiatrist Natalie King works with victims and perpetrators of violent crime. She rides a Ducati a size too big and wears a tank top a size too small. Likes men but doesn’t want to keep one. And really needs to stay on her medication.
Now she’s being stalked. Could it be a hostile former patient? Or someone connected with a current case?
Natalie doesn’t know. And with another missing child case on her desk, the time for answers is running out.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Legend Press for providing me with a free copy of this book that I chose to review.
When I first read the description of the book, I thought this was the book for me. I do read in a variety of genres, I am a psychiatrist and I worked in forensic psychiatry (although in the UK, not in Australia like the protagonist) for a number of years. I also write and have a psychiatrist as one of my characters, so I was interested in this novel, not only as a reader but also as a writer.
As I read the novel I realised that perhaps I wasn’t the best person to give feedback on it, as although I enjoyed the descriptions and discussions of mental health matters that are one of the pillars of the book, I was not in a position to comment on how somebody who wasn’t familiar with the material, would find it (although from the comments I’ve read, it seems people enjoy it and don’t find it difficult or too detailed).
The novel is told in the third person from the point of view of Nicole, a young female psychiatrist who works in a forensic setting, both in a hospital and also sees outpatients in her own practice. She only works with female patients, and has her own mental health problems (she is bipolar, and regularly sees a therapist, currently only for supervision, Declan, who functions as the voice of reason, although unfortunately he isn’t always given the full information). Nicole identifies herself closely with some of her patients and finds it difficult not to get over-involved (after all, she was also an inpatient, and had a difficult childhood, like many of the women she works with). That causes quite a few of the complex situations she sees herself in, although perhaps also makes her get ‘results’, albeit at a high personal cost.
Nicole is not a model of professionality or a model patient either. Sometimes she doesn’t take her medication, she mixes it with alcohol, and she struggles with issues of confidentiality. She does not get on well with the Professor who is the star psychiatrist in the department where she works, and she has her own morality that might clash with accepted standards(she does not want long-term romantic relationships, but sex with a married man, even one she knows due to work, is OK). She is also not the wisest and tries to convince herself that she is not scared and does not need anybody when she gets evidence that she’s being stalked. And if you think of psychiatrist as bookish and boring, Nicole is none of that. She plays in a band, rides a big motorbike and favours leather gear.
A couple of warnings: there is sex in the novel, although not explicit and too descriptive, but if you don’t like sexual language, there is some. From the point of view of the plot, it helps demonstrate that Nicole’s impulsivity spreads to many areas of her life, illustrates her high mood at one point, and at the end, it helps us get a better picture of what her true priorities are. The second warning is about the main subject of the book. The author works in postnatal mental health, and the patients Nicole works with and the cases being investigated pertain to infanticides or child murders, and also to paedophilia and sexual abuse, and although not gory, the psychological descriptions ring true and might be difficult to read if you are especially sensitive to those themes. It is not a light or feel-good book, that’s a fact.
The different women Nicole works with and their different families, mirror one another and at times it might be difficult to extricate the smaller characters and differentiate between them even if you’re playing close attention, but the main characters’ psychological makeup rings true, and there are masterful descriptions of symptoms of mental illness, like those Nicole experiences when she’s going high. I could also identify professionally with the issues Nicole has with the difficult interface between being a psychiatrist to her patients, and also having to take into account that they are (or might be) criminals and might represent a risk to others. She struggles with issues of confidentiality and risk, and that is one of the true complexities of forensic psychiatry.
The plot is complex and twists and turns, making the reader share with the protagonist in her doubts about diagnosis, guilty parties, about her stalker, and even about her personal relationships.
I recommend it to readers with a particular interest in mental health and psychological thrillers, who are not unduly concerned about sex or child abuse and murder in their books, and who enjoy complex characterisations and plots.
Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and you know what to do, like, share, comment, and CLICK!