Case Histories - A Novel by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories – A Novel by Kate Atkinson

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Book Review of Case Histories – A Novel by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s fourth novel since the Whitbread winning Behind The Scenes at the Museum is a multi-stranded crime narrative, as interested in the after effects of violence as in the acts themselves.

In 1974, Olivia Land, the youngest of four sisters, goes missing from her garden and is never seen again; in 1994 eighteen year old Laura Wyre is killed in a brutal, seemingly motiveless attack; in 1979, another young woman, struggling to cope with life as a new mother, suddenly snaps… These are the three tales that open the novel, and it is the aftermath of these events that Atkinson depicts as she knits the various narrative threads together.

Jackson Brodie is a retired police officer turned private investigator living in Cambridge, who finds himself connected with all three cases, with the people left behind, the people whose lives still revolve around an event years, even decades in the past.

Olivia’s sisters, Julia and Amelia, now middle-aged, come to him to help them find some resolution and Laura’s father Theo still clings to the hope that with Brodie’s help he may yet find his daughter’s killer. Jackson, with his propensity to get punched in the face and his own dark story of loss, provides a warm, fallible centre for Atkinson’s well-realised world.

Despite its subject matter the novel is far from unrelentingly grim, there are moments of humour, both black and broad, to counter the tragedy and even the most minor of characters is easily visualised, with their own traits and quirks. The Land sisters and their cat loving South African neighbour; Jackson’s stern assistant and the eight year old daughter Marlee who he inevitably fears for, surrounded as he is by stories of young girls gone missing, of young lives ended brutally.

Case Histories is in some ways reminiscent of Julie Myerson’s Something Might Happen, which also attempted to investigate the emotional fallout triggered by a senseless violent death, but where that novel faltered after an initially strong opening, Kate Atkinson juggles the various elements of her, more convoluted, story with consistent skill.

The plotting is intricate and clever but never overwhelmingly so and, though the novel occasionally drifts towards the predictable – some of the resolutions are a little too neat – Atkinson is always capable of throwing something completely unexpected into the picture whenever things start to feel overly contrived.

A well written, well constructed book, Case Histories successfully blurs the boundary between generic and literary fiction, with the result that it is hard to put down and harder to forget.

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