Jackson Brodie series, by Kate Atkinson

>> Saturday, May 09, 2009

Reason for reading: On a recent trip, I travelled with a colleague who was reading the third book in this series. He was so absorbed in the book that I thought it must be good! He said I should start at the beginning of the series, though, so I did.

This series starrs former soldier-cum-policeman Jackson Brodie. When we meet him at the start of Case Histories, he's a private detective and a bit bored with his routine cases (mostly divorce, as you would expect). But then bam! Complicated old, cold cases start coming out of the woodwork. It's cases he has no desire to take, unfortunately. Theo wants him to solve his daughter's mysterious murder. Amelia and Julia want him to discover what happened to their little sister, who disappeared decades ago. Sheila?? wants him to find her missing teenager niece, whose mother is a convicted axe-murderer.

They're all Interesting cases, with strong a-ha moments at the end. There are even good reasons for why Jackson would be able to solve them now, when that hadn't happened all those years before (well, the two he solved, anyway. The third case, the one about the axe-murdering young woman wasn't solved, as much as revealed).

The best thing about this book was the small, understated connections. I expected that all the cases would end up being somehow connected, but while there was a small element of that in the resolution, the links weren't in unbelievable coincidences. It was a lot more subtle than that. It was more a case of small echoes, sentiments expressed by more than one person, in different contexts, or insights gained in one case that gave an idea for making progress in the other. And yes, some links were "accidentally" formed between the people involved in the different cases, but that felt right as well.

There are plenty of interesting characters around. Jackson, for one, has a complex, deep backstory and a very defined personality. He's no all-powerful detective, but has vulnerabilities. But the secondary characters were also interesting, and Atkinson made me care about them, enough to be truly touched by the ending. Theo, the father of the young woman who'd been knifed was probably the one who touched me the most. I wanted to hug him, and although of course, he didn't get a *happy* ending (impossible without raising the dead!), he did end up in a much more hopeful position. I was also happy for Amelia.

Finally, the tone and Atkinson's voice was very interesting. It's not funny -exactly-, but there is quite a bit of humour and compassion there.

MY GRADE: a B+. I like it even better on reflection.

I had a completely different reaction to the second book in the series, One Good Turn. I mostly enjoyed it as I was reading it, but on starting to think about it, I find that too many things irritated me.

Jackson is in Edinburgh for the festival, when he witnesses an incident of road rage. Also present on the scene are a variety of characters, including a painfully shy writer, an assassin and a wronged wife, whose lives end up tangling in all kinds of strange ways.

This second case is a lot more confusing than the one in Case Histories. The coincidences and links here are a lot less subtle, and really strained credulity. Time and time again, I couldn't really suspend disbelief and was thrown out of the story.

But I think what bothered me the most was that quite a few times, characters behaved in ways that were illogical and even worse, completely out of character. Jackson, especially, had a couple of episodes like that. His refusal to talk to the police after witnessing the road rage incident (even though he knew he was a trained observer, and really had no reason to assume someone else would have registered the relevant license plate) was one of them, and another was his decision to plead guilty after a the guy responsible for that incident assaulted him later, even though it would have been extremely easy to tell the police about what had happened. I don't know, maybe the fact that this behaviour was so out of character for Jackson *was* supposed to tell us something about his state of mind, but I was unconvinced.

I was also disappointed by the conclusion to Martin's story. I suppose I felt about him a bit like I felt about Theo, in the previous book, wanting to hug him, wanting to get his happy ending, albeit not in the exact form he wanted it (the happy, stalwart farm wife would have been all wrong for him. I really thought he and Louise, the inspector who ends up tying most of the ends of the case together, would suit perfectly). But... no definition whatsoever! Oof.

Not to mention, no real definition or closure in the case, either, with it finishing with a supposed twist that didn't make all that much sense to me, or add much to the story.

It wasn't all bad though, no matter what my litany of complaints would suggest. Again, we have vivid characters and a page turner, but the first one was a lot better.


The third book, When Will There Be Good News falls somewhere in the middle. We again get coincidences and connections, as well as an incredibly endearing character in the middle of them.

The huggable character in this case is Reggie Chase, a teenager trying to hold things together on her own, after her mother's death. Reggie is motivated and determined to do well. She's studying hard for her A-levels and working as mother's helper for a doctor to keep the money coming in. She loves her job and she loves Dr. Jo Hunter, whose baby she's minding. When Dr. Hunter disappears and no one seems to think anything's wrong, Reggie will do all she can to make sure the police do their job.

This main storyline was actually quite interesting, and Reggie was a fantastic character. The problem is, the rest wasn't as good. The bit about Dr. Hunter's past and the person from her past who shows up at one point was intriguing, but the resolution of it left me thinking "so what was the point of that?". And Jackson is beginning to bore me a bit. This thing of his with Louise is just completely uninteresting.

MY GRADE: I think a B-, as on the whole, the book was a page-turner.


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