When Will There Be Good News? (audio)

Listening to the audio versions of Kate Atkinson’s three Jackson Brodie novels has taught me a lot about the importance of the audio book reader. Susan Jameson, who performed Case Histories, adopted a wry tone that had me laughing out loud—I especially loved that her voice was so much like the voice I heard in my head when I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Steven Crossley’s more dramatic tone in One Good Turn was a disappointment because it just didn’t feel “Atkinson-esque.” And now, with When Will There Be Good News?, I got to hear a third reader, Ellen Archer. Archer’s style is more earnest than Crossley’s or Jameson’s, but I found that it worked. I still missed Jameson’s voice and wish she had read all three of the books, but Archer’s reading was by no means a disappointment.

So what’s the book about? Jenny has already given an excellent summation of the plot, so go check out her review. My own impressions are similar. I was surprised at the developments in the lives of both former police inspector Jackson Brodie and Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, who was introduced in One Good Turn, and their stories took more surprising turns in this book.

One of the more interesting threads running through this book is the idea of what should make us happy and what does make us happy—and how the two things aren’t always the same. Jackson and Louise are both in relationships that look perfect on paper, but are they? Another character, Joanna Hunter, has built a perfect life that covers over her tragic past. And my favorite character, Reggie, has a present-day life that is full of horror, so she chooses to find family and happiness in other quarters. When she tries desperately to help her employer, Joanna, the one person she cares about and who has gone missing, no one seems to understand her dogged devotion, and her pleas are consistently ignored.

Reggie is described at one point as “”half child, half unstoppable force of nature,” and she is. Her energy and determination drive the story forward, which proves to be important when Jackson and Louise both have lost their spirit and are tempted to take the easy way out by not caring, not engaging with the question of where Joanna Hunter could be. Reggie, however, is fully engaged, and her persistence pushed both Jackson and Louise to follow their better instincts.

A recurring theme in Atkinson’s books involves justice and whether justice is available under the law. As in many crime novels, characters in the Jackson Brodie books take matters into their own hands, making things right in their own way. In both this book and in One Good Turn, I got the sense that the law was on the side of good, unlike in some crime novels where the police or the courts are depicted as corrupt, thus making vigilante justice necessary. The problem with the legal route, however, is that it doesn’t bring psychological justice. Victims are silenced but stigmatized; criminals are set free but are neither rehabilitated nor given a clean bill of mental health. The system is obviously not perfect, and as a reader, I found it hard not to cheer for Atkinson’s characters, both here and in One Good Turn, who subverted the system, even as I didn’t approve of all their choices. I was especially impressed that Atkinson could reveal the weaknesses with the system as it is without seeming to point an accusing finger.

Atkinson’s next book, Started Early, Took My Dog, also a Jackson Brodie novel, is releasing this August in the UK and in March 2011 in the US. I’m looking forward to it!

Other Reviews

Gavin at Page247: “Why is this novel so memorable? Because Atkinson has written a mystery that is more than a mystery.”

Audrey Chaix at Vulpes Libris: “Kate Atkinson masters her art so finely that When Will There Be Good News? is not sad, not even overly dramatic. I read the book twice.”

Jackie at Farm Lane Books: “The plot was well structured, and there were a few surprises at the end, but overall I found this book too depressing to be able to recommend it to anyone.”

See also Books I Done Read, Lit and Life, Fleur Fisher Reads, and Harriet Devine’s Blog.

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14 Responses to When Will There Be Good News? (audio)

  1. Deb says:

    Loved, loved, loved the three Jackson Brodie books (and am eagerly awaiting the fourth). One aspect of the books is the humor–some of it of the “laugh out loud” variety. Even in the midst of horrible events and dreadful life situations, people can find something to make them laugh.

    I also warn people (if “warn” is the right word) that these books are not really mysteries in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, the little mystery of “who dunnit” is far exceeded by the big mysteries of who we are and what are we doing here.

    One last comment–Atkinson is one of those rare writers who make pets part of the storyline; not in a treacly, sentimental way, but in a way that will be immediately identifiable by anyone who has ever owned and loved a pet. There are family dogs in both CASE HISTORIES and WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS, and a family cat in ONE GOOD TURN, each of which plays a role in the plot.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree that folks who are expecting a traditional mystery would probably be disappointed with Atkinson. I often find the psychological stuff the most interesting part of a crime novel, so her work suits me fine. They may not be perfect mysteries, but they’re fabulous books!

      And I do enjoy the way she brings pets into the storyline. (Don’t forget the many cats in Case Histories!)

  2. Steph says:

    I really wish I could get behind Atkinson’s detective books, since I think she’s such a great author, but they just fall so flat for me! Thankfully she has a pretty extensive non-mystery back catalog for me to explore!

    • Teresa says:

      Behind the Scenes at the Museum is the only one of her non-crime books that I’ve read, but I did love it, and I’d be perfectly happy for her to write more books along that line.

  3. For me, Atkinson just gets better with each book. I liked Case Histories, loved One Good Turn, and couldn’t put When Will There Be Good News? down. This has little to do with her actual plots (which are very good) but with the amazing characters she has created. For me, it’s not so much about the mysteries as the character, both major and minor, development. Can’t wait for Started Early, Took My Dog.

  4. Patty says:

    I love this author and read everything she writes…have you read Behind The Scenes At The Museum? She is truly gifted.

    • Teresa says:

      I have read Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It was the first of her books that I read, and I do want to read all her other non-crime books.

  5. Sandra says:

    I recently tried this writer and book and enjoyed this story very much. So glad to find another crime/mystery writer who goes deeper into the personal lives of the characters than most. Susan Hill in her Simon Serailler series does the same-I’ve just finished her fifth, The Shadows in the Street.
    Looks as if I have to go back and read Atkinson’s other three. Thanks for reviewing this and the heads up on her upcoming book too. I’ll come back and read your reviews of the others too after I’ve read the books.

    • Teresa says:

      So glad you’re enjoying Atkinson! I agree that it’s her way with writing people that makes her so wonderful, whether in crime fiction or not.

      I’ve been pondering the Susan Hill books off and on for years (much like I did Atkinson), and I may get around to them one of these days.

      • Deb says:

        I strongly recommend Hill’s Simon Serailler mysteries, but please don’t be put off by the first of them, THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN. I disliked it–found Serailler to be a pompous ass and his father a jerk and his mother a doormat–and I probably would not have read on, but for encouraging words from some of my favorite book bloggers. I’m glad I did because the subsequent books in the series are much better–and, perhaps, because I realized that, like Kate Atkinson’s Brodie books, Hill is less interested in the small mysteries of who dunnit than in the big, life mysteries.

      • Teresa says:

        That’s good to know, Deb. IIRC, Jenny didn’t like the first Serallier book much for the reasons you mention, so I’m glad to hear the series improves.

  6. I think I have missed out by not reading these books in order. It sounds as though listening to the audio books worked well (at least for the 1st and 3rd!) so perhaps I should try listening to the first in the series and see if that helps.

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