It’s a Mystery – Kate Atkinson edition

5th May 2011

I won these books and Started Early, Took My Dog, Atkinson’s most recent book, from Pop Culture Nerd’s website when Hachette Books did a giveaway. (It was so exciting getting four (4!) books in the mail all in one day.) Case Histories was actually my #fridayreads take me away choice, and I finished One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? on Saturday.

Atkinson’s storytelling is much different for a mystery writer. Most series revolve around the detective/police officer/private eye, but Atkinson’s stories take you all the way around that character, focusing instead on the people who have been traumatized by crime. I didn’t realize until halfway through Case Histories that Jackson Brodie, former police office now private investigator, is her main protagonist. It is a risky decision as there were several times when each different perspective felt unlinked. However, she pulls them together nicely, and the books were (obviously) enjoyable. So here’s the lowdown:

Case Histories

A father loses a beloved daughter in a moment of incredible violence. A young woman breaks under the stress to be perfect and kills her husband. A sister disappears in the night without a trace. All these crimes happened in the past, yet the families battle to live on through grief and anger. But this book isn’t about the victims. The survivors are what matter here, and Jackson Brodie is called on to see if he can help three separate families find a rocky peace in order to move on.

One Good Turn

Edinburgh is crowded for the annual Festival, and the streets are no less so. One car rear ends another, and the owner of the rear vehicle gets out with a bat, gunning for the man who had to stop short. He nearly kills him, and the novel follows not only the injured man but also those who have witnessed the act, including a meek writer Alex Blake who swings his heavy bag, saving the victim. Alex Blake is a crime writer, and his out-of-character act sets off a series of events, which once again, Jackson Brodie must help to right.

When Will There Be Good News?

On a lonely country road, a woman walks with her three children. She sees a man up ahead and averts her eyes, hurrying her two young daughters along. The wind changes, and suddenly the man attacks them, killing all but the middle child Joanna. Thirty years later, Joanna is a doctor with a child of her own. The man who decimated her family is nearing release.

Reggie is a 16-year-old orphan. After her mother dies, she quits school (though she still studies with a former teacher) and goes to work for Joanna as a caregiver for her son. Reggie’s life is far from perfect: her brother is shady and growing shadier, and she longs to be part of a real family. When Joanna goes missing, Reggie knows something is wrong, but no one takes her seriously.

Then, a train wreck fortuitously (for her, not so fortuitously for Jackson Brodie) throws the former detective into her path, and she binds him to her side. She needs help, and Jackson can’t deny her.

I look forward to more Jackson Brodie, and even if you aren’t usually a lover of all things mystery, I think you would still really enjoy Atkinson’s work. Have you read any of these? Think you might add any to your list?

UPDATE: This is why I love having a book blog. There was something just not right about these books, which I’m sure you could feel in the reviews, a sort of “meh” attitude. Then Steph from Steph & Tony Investigate left a comment, and the floodgates opened up. You can view the comment, but here’s the essence of it: Atkinson had to REALLY work to connect the separate stories, and the way she did it? Well, it was kind of annoying. I get that she wants to write literary fiction with a mystery thrown in (she says that in one of the reader guides), but there are elements of mystery that have to be there. And when they are tied up too nicely, it feels like cheating. There are coincidences in life, yes, but there are a whole lot of coincidences in these books, and it’s hard to buy. The other thing I remembered but didn’t mention was that as I began One Good Turn there was something familiar about it. Apparently at some point I had started this book and later put it down because I just couldn’t get into it. You see, part of the reason I like a series is the familiar face. Where’s my detective? And when you don’t get that until at least 75-100 pages in, it feels too much like the mystery is an afterthought. So there. My true feelings on Atkinson, brought to life by Steph. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I haven’t rushed to start Started Early, Took My Dog. This doesn’t make the books unenjoyable, but for an avid mystery reader, I don’t like that newfangled bizness. Know what I mean?

jenn aka the picky girl

  • So, I read Case Histories ages ago (well before I started to blog) and while I thought I would love it, I did not. I actually thought it was quite boring, and dismissed Atkinson as a mystery writer that I should read. What’s weird is that I LOVE her non-mystery novels so very much. So I think that maybe I need to try give good ol’ Jackson Brodie another try… Maybe I just hadn’t developed my reading palate when he and I first encountered one another.

    • pickygirl

      I kind of felt the same way, though I was never bored. I mean, I read them all in quick succession, but I was left feeling… down. That isn’t normally how I feel after a mystery. The other thing I didn’t like but didn’t go into in the review (because they were short reviews) is how everything wrapped up so well: everyone knew everyone. One survivor from one horrible accident just happened to meet one from another with no help from Jackson. Wow, just realized how much that bugged me. Life is full of coincidences, yes, but Atkinson seemed to rely on those coincidences to connect otherwise unconnected characters.

      Ok, so maybe I need to update my post…

  • Great post. My favorite of the three was/is WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? I’m leery of reading the new one, STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, because NONE of the reviews I’ve read make me eager to pick it up. I’ll probably take a look at it at some point, but don’t know when.

  • Feeling similarly conflicted about reading these works. I could have this wrong but I think Teresa at Shelf Love really likes this author so I keep looking at that copy of Behind the Scenes at the Museum but nothing yet. Even when I had the opportunity to pick up a copy of Case Histories for next to nothing at a Borders sale, I took a bye. Not even sure why.

    • pickygirl

      That happens sometimes. No particular reason. Sometimes, it’s too much exposure, and after a while, I just steer clear of a book. Later I’ll pick it up and wonder why I didn’t sooner. I’m curious how I’ll react to the latest book.