Wednesday, November 22

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Review by Theodore Feit


In an intricately plotted novel, the lives of the characters intertwine in a totally unexpected fashion   It took us a while to find and read it, and are we glad we did.   How the author managed to weave it all together is beyond comprehension.  The book begins with a series of what appear to be short stories.  But then, slowly we begin to learn about the lives and circumstances of each character.


There is Theo, an overweight solicitor and attorney-at-law who dotes on his 18-year-old daughter, Laura.  He asks her to take a part-time position at the firm, and on her first day there a man in a yellow golf sweater bursts in looking for Theo, who is elsewhere.  He slashes the arm of a partner and Laura's throat.  She bleeds to death.


Then we have the Land family—four daughters.  One night three of them sleep in a tent in the backyard and the three-year old goes missing along with her favorite toy, a doll called Blue Mouse, which is discovered many years later upon the death of the father, locked in his desk drawer.


Michelle and Shirley are involved in the axe murder of Michelle's husband; Michelle is convicted and sent to jail.  The couple's baby is handed over to the incapable paternal grandparents and when she is 15 she runs away.


Finally we have Jackson Brodie, a private detective who is retained in each case, either to discover the murderer or find the missing person.  It is his role to tie all three mysteries together.  Each family and Jackson himself represents dysfunction, insecurity and all kinds of shortcomings.   The descriptions are penetrating and human, with unusual twists.  Yet there is a hint of optimism despite the sordid background as the novel progresses.  Each story probably could have stood on its own as a novel, but somehow the author weaves them together very well.


Jackson returns in the author's most recent novel, One Good Turn, previously reviewed.  In that novel, he plays an entirely different, but equally interesting role.


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