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!
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.”