I’ve just finished Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I very much enjoyed the first three-quarters of it. The book is, as the title advertises, a series of apparently disconnected ‘unfortunate events’. Gradually, as the book progresses, these themes become intertwined until most of them are resolved. Somewhere fairly near the start, a detective, Jackson Brodie, enters the scene. He’s a pleasant character, easy to identify with but one of those frustratingly passive men who can mentally articulate but cannot deal with events in his personal life. So, as with so many of his fictional predecessors and contemporaries, he takes refuge in detecting and kind of plods on in a straight line, until solutions to the various mysteries fall into his lap almost by default.
I don’t mean to be harsh on the book, it is extremely well-written and I enjoyed it a lot (though I could have done without the rather constant sexual descriptions and references). The "case history" approach allows the author to create telling little short stories, which whet the appetite of the reader and make you want to read on. The book is permeated with sad events and melancholy characters.
But the last quarter was disappointing. The whole was not the sum of the parts. It is always a bad sign when a book suddenly switches style, as this one does nearish the end, messing around with time. Significant events are missed out of the narrative and told out of order or in retrospect (or both), which indicated to me an unnecessary loss of confidence by the author, as if she could not quite believe that the reader is on her side by then, and just let things carry on to the end. And eventually, the number of "neat" solutions is not believable, even if it is satisfying to know the outcome of many of the mysteries, the book has somehow lost the unique voice it had at the outset.
I’m very tempted to read the sequel, One Good Turn, which cannot be out yet in the UK as I called into Waterstones by the station on my way home tonight to see if it was on sale. It wasn’t. However, Susan Balee says it is excellent so I will give it a shot when I can get hold of it. (Have just checked, you can buy it via Amazon UK.)