Wednesday, March 11, 2009

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson--a review

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.


Anonymous said...

Ooh good review! I've enjoyed everything I've ever read by Atkinson (pretty much the same books as you) and will look forward to this one, too.

Marg said...

I really enjoyed this when I read it last year! I need to go back and work my way through her backlist.

Tara said...

I adored this book! I love the complicated plots and dark humor of this series. I hope Atkinson does another Jackson Brodie book.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--once again, I thought she delivered a really clever, well-written mystery. You can pick the plot apart if you want to, but she's so darn facile with it that I don't want to!

Marg--I love her earlier books, too!

Tara--I agree completely, and I'll be right there with you in line when the next book comes out :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book too, so much so that I raced through it to find out what would happen next. It's not only complicated, but has so much depth. Definitely a book to re-read.

Anonymous said...

I loved the first few pages of this book (which I read over at the NYT) and it's definitely on my TBR list. Love her style for the same reasons you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Great review, thanks!

Having read none of Atkinson's previous novels, I've been pondering about reading this one for a little while. This really help me figures a little more about her style. I'll probably try another one first though, since this one has a recurring character. Thank you!

Gentle Reader said...

Booksplease--you're right, one to re-read!

Pete--I think she's such a good writer, and I love her style, too.

infiniteshelf--I'd probably read Case Histories first, if you want to start with the first in the series :)