The Medea Complex

The Medea Complex - Rachel Florence Roberts This book was received from the author for an honest review.

Honestly, I found it difficult to write the review of this particular book without giving away the plot.

Our novel begins in the then seemingly inauspicious surroundings of the Royal Bethlem hospital, a real psychiatric hospital based in London, UK and founded in 1247. Historically notorious this is the institution for which the word bedlam was first derived, 'bedlam' being a corruption of the name Bethlem, (which itself comes from the name Bethlehem). Whilst the hospital in its present incarnation bares little resemblance to the pre-19th century institution, and not just because the hospital has moved destinations three or four times over the centuries.

The Medea Complex is a first person, multi-character viewpoint novel set during the Victorian era 1885-1886. Our first and subsequently most important character is Anne, Lady Stanbury, the novel starts as she wakes alone and afraid in a darkened room, she tells us that she does not know where she is and how she came to be there; and indeed she believes herself kidnapped for ransom from her wealthy parent. Anne has amnesia, she remembers both her father and her maid Beatrix, but not her husband or her baby son. In fact, we later find out that not only she has murdered her 8-week old baby John in the most brutal way and is apparently suffering from 'Puerperal Mania' as diagnosed by eminent psychiatrist Dr. George Savage, but that her father the Lord Damsbridge has used his not insurmountable influence to get her committed to bedlam rather than prison, where she would most certainly have been hanged.

In many ways Anne's psychiatrist Dr. George Savage is the 2nd most important person in the novel and we spend a great deal of time in his company. We see him meet and interact with the main protagonist and the other leading and pivotal characters in turn. He becomes an unwitting contributor to the tangled drama. Some may find that his internal monologues, conversations, and diary notes quite shockingly misogynistic and even primitive if we judge them by our 21st century sensibilities. Indeed, it would be easy to dismiss some of the dialogue attributed to him in the novel as unrealistic, but Dr. Savage was actually a real person and a psychiatrist, or alienist as they were known, working at the Royal and many of his notes have been preserved.

Our third character is Edgar Stanbury, Anne's husband and the grieving father of baby John. It was Edgar, who discovered his wife at home covered in blood, clutching a knife with the remains of the baby she had butchered. Naturally traumatized by the memory of this scene, it plagues his thoughts day and night, and his mind turns to revenge, but yet he continually tells himself that he loves his wife still.

Our fourth character of note is Beatrix, a lady's maid, and lifelong companion to Anne, she is prepared to do anything for her mistress, whatever the cost.

You would think that I would obviously and automatically direct my sympathies to Edgar, and certainly I did just that for a short time, but I struggled to empathize with any one character during the last two thirds of the book. If have to ask yourself how likeable can a man be when a dozen servants have more sympathy for a baby's proven killer than they do for the father of the child?

Every aspect of society portrayed appears to barbarous, policemen arrest on a whim; Prisoners are kept in deplorable conditions, lawyers are corrupt or incompetent; Treatment of mental patients evidently appears to employ some sort of water boarding techniques, and children are forced into work at a young age.Of course this happens in real life, but we are in book world here.

There were one or two threads that I wished had been developed further, and a few scenarios I found just a stretch too far, and a seemingly endless list of corrupt, unlikeable characters. I was not alive in 1885, so I am not an expert on the common lingo of the time, regional or otherwise in England, but I was not one hundred percent certain that some of the words used would have been in use at the time, now this may seem unfair, and possibly go unnoticed by the majority of readers, but it caused me to pause far too many times. Also a few minor characters happened to have strong regional dialects, which is absolutely fine, but it may have been easier for the reader to declare that, or show it in one or two sentences instead of writing dialogue for them that was barely comprehensible.

The Medea is not a horror, yes a horrific incident, the killing of a young baby takes place off-screen, and is referred to throughout, but rather it is a psychological conspiracy thriller set in the Victorian era.

It might suit lovers of historical conspiracy thrillers.

I believe that the author is writing a sequel. Hopefully this will show the three victims getting some form of moral recompense, because the victors had it way, way too easy.