Thursday, July 28, 2016

Case Histories

This is a terrific book.

Kate Atkinson's ability to write makes even other fine writers look like amateurs. I enjoy many other authors who write about detectives: The Peter Robinson series, the Ed McBain procedurals, the old Spenser novels and many others of the find-and-get-the-perp ilk. As good as Robinson, McBain et al are, they are minor leaguers compared to Atkinson.

Reading her feels like getting on a roller coaster.  You need to buckle up. And you know it's likely that the ride will be thrilling.

The only problem with Case Histories is that the plot lines are so nuanced that you almost have to read the book in a couple of sittings. Otherwise you can forget characters who were casually introduced but later come back to be significant. Atkinson is terrific at this--essentially compelling readers to pay attention to everything.  She draws the characters so carefully--even the ones you may think are inconsequential.   Then boom, one hundred pages later, you have to riffle back to find a reference to so and so who may turn out to be very consequential to the story.  Some of the characters are unusual, but as strange as they may be, when you are finished with the book you believe that these characters--even the true nutcases--are really out there.  Even the killers.

Case Histories introduces an independent detective, Jackson Brodie.  He has been hired to sleuth out issues related to three cases.  The reader learns about the case histories in the first three chapters. The cases are not presented chronologically. In sequence we read that in 1970 a toddler goes missing, then in 1994 a beloved daughter assisting in her father's law office is stabbed by an assailant who disappears, then in 1979 a husband has his head split open by an axe ostensibly by his wife while their infant daughter is nearby.  Now, in 2004, Brodie works on all three of these cases.

In addition Brodie is dealing with his own divorce; a daughter now living with the ex-wife and her lover; a quirky elderly cat lover whom Brodie befriends; Brodie's own painful childhood history; and his current romantic desires.

If you are a reader, and have a couple of days that you can dedicate to reading, I highly recommend Case Histories.  It is the first of four Jackson Brodie novels. I had read the fourth a while back, Started Early, Took My Dog, which was not quite as good as this one.  I know I will read the second one, One Good Turn, in the near future.  Case Histories is special.

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