Half of you are probably going to think I’ve been living under a rock, but I had never heard of Kate Atkinson before I walked into my local bookstore last week (let us pause here a moment and take pleasure with me in the fact that I finally live in a town with an independent bookstore) and saw Case Histories on the wall of staff recommendations. Only after I’d read and hugely enjoyed this excellent crime novel did I discover that Kate Atkinson has written two others in this series (hooray!), as well as several straight literary novels, the first of which (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) took the Whitbread Book of the Year award ahead of Salman Rushdie’s entry. Apparently, I’ve been missing out.
Case Histories follows, as you might suspect, three case histories: Olivia, who was abducted at the age of three from her own back yard and never returned, dead or alive; Laura, an 18-year-old girl who was killed by a knife-wielding maniac on her first day at a new job, the killer never found; and Michelle, convicted for splitting her husband’s head open with an axe, like a particularly difficult load of firewood. The three crimes took place in different decades, in different places around England, to different families. The only thing that apparently links them is that, eventually, grief seeks its own level: everyone seeks some kind of closure, some kind of story that will help them understand what happened at a level they can bear.
The man following these case histories, trying to bring them to some sort of conclusion, is Jackson Brodie. Jackson has his own history, and his own need to create a story he can bear: ex-Army, ex-police, ex-husband, father of a young daughter, brother of a murdered girl, he dreams of escaping to France as he follows adulterers and finds missing cats. He has no real hope of solving any of these crimes, since they took place so long ago, but as he uncovers small pieces of the puzzle, the three stories begin to fit together in unexpected ways, and by the end, the picture looks completely different to nearly everyone involved.
This book was terrific. The characters were realistic, and in particular, Jackson Brodie was very enjoyably human: he’s thoughtful, willing to think about his position and change it if necessary. (He also shares my taste in music, which doesn’t hurt.) The book was wry in its sympathy, funny and poignant, and best of all, well-written. The writing was good enough to make me laugh and think and notice things, and also good enough to stay out of the way when it should. I am so pleased that Kate Atkinson has already written two other books in this series — I’m already devouring the next one! Definitely recommended.