About a million years ago, I read Kate Atkinson’s novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and I was really taken with her prose style. It was the story of an ordinary English family, dealing dysfunctionally with what seemed to me to be an extraordinary amount of tragedy. I loved the characters, and I loved the dark sense of humor Atkinson displayed.
After that I was eager to read Case Histories, which I didn’t know was a mystery before I read it. It surprised me, because I didn’t think of Atkinson as a mystery writer, but it was a pleasant surprise. I don’t usually read mysteries, so I’m not sure how it stacks up against other mysteries, but I enjoyed it. It was character-driven, thoughtful, dark and really well-written. And I knew I would continue to follow private investigator Jackson Brodie, which I did through the next novel, One Good Turn. I guess you could say that Atkinson writes literary mysteries, and I’m finding it’s a genre I like.
When Will There Be Good News? is the third novel featuring Jackson Brodie, an ex-cop who now works as a P.I., and it again brings Brodie in contact with his former love interest, police detective Louise Monroe. Thirty years ago Joanna Mason was the only survivor of a brutal knife attack that killed her mother and siblings. Now Joanna is a doctor, married and a new mother. And she has hired 16-year-old Regina “Reggie” Chase as a nanny—which is a good thing, as when Joanna goes missing, Reggie is the only one who believes she’s been kidnapped. After Reggie saves Jackson Brodie from death in a terrible train crash, she enlists him to help her find the missing Joanna. Both Reggie and Jackson spar with detective Louise Monroe, and work parallel to her, as they unravel the mystery of Joanna’s disappearance.
Some people have criticized the novel for its complicated plot, and the coincidences that hold this plot together, but I didn’t mind these things at all. In fact, I feel that Atkinson is very skillful in her plotting, and has woven the disparate strands together so well that I didn’t mind any leaps I had to make to believe them. Atkinson also resists giving neat motives for her criminal characters, or real reasons for crimes. I love this, because I don’t think real crime is ever that neat. And instead of neat motives, Atkinson provides real insight into all her characters, and gives them wonderful flaws and foibles, so that you believe what they do.
But what really keeps me coming back for Atkinson’s crime novels is her dark sense of humor and her sheer talent. She is a really good writer. I love the novel’s cleverness, and I appreciate its darkness.