Kate Atkinson has ten bestselling books, but for this week’s Five Star Friday selection, I’ve returned to an old favorite, Case Histories, that introduced cop-turned-private investigator the adorably irritable Jackson Brodie.
True to mystery form, Brodie’s tough exterior covers a hurt and haunted heart. He’s eking out a living in Cambridge with cases that range from missing cats to cheating spouses.
But it’s Atkinson’s skill as a writer that lifts this detective series from cliché and into literature. Her gift is spinning the story within the story regardless of the genre.
Case Histories, the first book in the series, presents three separate cases: the disappearance of a child, a murdered teen, and a woman who killed her husband with an ax during an argument.
The Guardian review by Carrie O’Grady described the difficulty: “To start your novel with three such shocking set-pieces is brave, and, if you’re good, effective: it bludgeons the reader into a state of mild depression that cries out for closure. Atkinson is very good indeed, and she makes her tragedies unbearably small-scale and human – never gory. What’s more, she addresses the balance by immediately bringing in the central character, Jackson, a private eye (ex-police) and all-round good bloke, if a touch bitter and cynical – which is really what you want in your private eyes.”
It’s no surprise then that the BBC developed two series around these novels. Atkinson’s first three Brodie mysteries were adapted for the first series in 2011.
In 2014, the second series focused on her fourth Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog.
As O’Grady said it so well, “Case Histories is essentially a
balancing act, with evil and ignorance stacked opposite truth and healing. In this aspect the book is more satisfying than many detective novels – not just because it is so well written, but in its defiant refusal to let the dark side win the day merely for the sake of looking gritty and “real”. Of course, Case Histories is not all sunshine and trite happy endings, but this is a book that rests on a strong and well-constructed moral framework, and is all the more powerful for it.”
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Other Jackson Brodie Mysteries:
Also by Atkinson: