One Good Turn

one-good-turnIt’s been a long time since I’ve met an author whose books I wanted to read one after the other, like eating honey-roasted peanuts, but Kate Atkinson is such an author. Her prose is tight and interesting, her characters are complex and thoughtfully drawn, and she rarely takes the easy way out, all of which means that her books are unpredictable, witty, dry, and enjoyable to the last line. I almost don’t want to jinx myself by hoping she writes more of them. I hope she writes what she wants to write, whatever that is. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

One Good Turn revolves around that most difficult of subjects, coincidence. As the book opens, mystery writer Martin Canning (pseudonym Alex Blake), who is in Edinburgh for a writer’s festival, witnesses what looks like a terrible act of road rage. When he intervenes, almost against his better judgment, he finds himself responsible for the man he saved. This good turn only draws him into more mayhem: break-ins, assault, theft, Mickey Finns, murder, madness.

Also at the scene of the road-rage incident was, of course, Jackson Brodie, our diffident hero from Case Histories. He doesn’t want to get involved, and dodges the police investigation, but for the rest of the book, he can’t seem to help himself. Each day he’s in Edinburgh finds him more deeply and inextricably entwined in police affairs, sometimes as a witness and sometimes as a suspect, and all because he can’t stay out of the wrong place at the wrong time. Eventually, a hard-headed police detective named Louise, a fraudulent housing magnate, a dead girl, a wronged wife, a pregnancy test, a mysterious cleaning company, and the Russian mafia (maybe) find their way across Jackson’s path. The way the book concludes is a miracle of engineering: coincidental (as befits the theme of the book) but not sloppy; satisfying but not tied in a sickeningly tidy bow. These mysteries are all that is enjoyable about crime fiction, without being slavish to traditions.

Those of you who mentioned in the comments on my review of Case Histories that you were surprised I hadn’t read Kate Atkinson before — what else are you keeping from me? Any other stellar recommendations in this genre? I used to read mysteries all the time, but have shifted away somewhat in recent years. I still enjoy a good mystery, though, as you can see. All suggestions cheerfully entertained!

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7 Responses to One Good Turn

  1. No recommendations, sorry. I too have gotten away from mystery’s but perhaps this needs to be changed.

    I have never read Kate Atkinson, but I keep reading good things about her and her work.

    This review is obviously the tipping point as I am now adding her officially to my wish list.

  2. Steph says:

    Kate Atkinson is not really a mystery writer! I mean, clearly she does write mysteries, but this series is actually a pretty new thing for her, and the majority of her other writing is not at all in this vein (I mean, it’s still very literary, but doesn’t involve sleuthing). The only book of hers I’ve read (apart from Case Histories, which I actually didn’t really care for) was “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”, which I thought was really very good. So, you might try that!

  3. Jenny says:

    J.C. — Certainly I can recommend Kate Atkinson! If you’re looking for other mystery recommendations, my first one is always Laurie King, and go on from there.

    Steph — I usually think that if you write mysteries, you’re really a mystery writer. :) By this time, she has written as many mystery novels as literary novels, so it’s at least a balance. But I do agree that the loveliest thing about her crime writing is its excellent prose. If only more mystery authors were more literary! Thanks very much for the recommendation for Behind the Scenes; I think I’ll put it on my list.

  4. Priscilla says:

    Oh, now how am I going to keep myself from checking this out of the library? ;)

  5. Tara says:

    While I liked this, it was my least favorite of the series. I think I need to read it again, though. I happen to like Susan Hill’s mystery series, mainly because it’s very unmystery-ish. You’ll find my review here, toward the end of the post.

    http://booksandcooks.blogspot.com/2008/12/goals-and-books-and-christmas-oh-my.html

  6. Jenny says:

    Priscilla — Why would you stop yourself? Libraries are for pure hedonistic pleasure! Free books! Whee!

    Tara — Thank you so much for the Susan Hill review. That looks right up my alley. I will pick one of those up when I go to the library this afternoon (see, Priscilla, I practice what I preach!)

  7. Pingback: The fringe of Edinburgh. « The Hieroglyphic Streets

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