Thursday, October 27, 2005


Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson, Little, Brown and Company, 2004, 310 pp

There was quite a stir of reviews when this book came out last year. Her first novel in 1995, Behind The Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Award, so she was an author to keep track of. When I heard it described as literary crime fiction I was intrigued. Then the LitBlog Coop ( picked it for their first Read This! selection in May. So I read it, at least to keep up with the discussion on the blog.

It was not a bad book. It kept me interested and somewhat amused. Jackson Brodie, the PI on the case, is really the weakest character. Yes, he has issues in his personal life and yes, he has all the obligatory dangers of a detective to live through, but he is almost a flat character; a foil against which the other characters reveal themselves.

The "case histories" are three families who each lost someone dear to them but never found the culprit. Now in these families we have some real characters who go through change as people while Jackson solves the crimes. I finished the book about two months ago and it is telling that I do not remember much about who the murderers actually were.

The other problem for me is that keeping three whole different family histories going for more than two decades in one novel of only 300 pages, necessitated many mere glimpses of each story. This was not as bad as in a book like The Jane Austen Book Club, but any one of the family histories would have rivaled Ian McEwan's Atonement had it stood alone. Therefore the whole book is more like a clever device in a novel's drapery.

The summary of these worrisome aspects is that the book was just OK and I will move on to other authors before I read her earlier work.

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