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Mystery author #24: Kate Atkinson

Title:Case Histories
Year published: 2004
Type of mystery: Literary mystery, murder, missing persons
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Cambridge, UK, contemporary
Number of suspicious deaths: 3
Some themes: Missing persons, family, hopelessness, murder

You may wonder why I am counting Kate Atkinson as a mystery writer. Simple: she has written two mysteries so far which is all it takes to make it onto my mystery author reading list. I am trying to get my hands on her other mystery, which is about the same lead character as this one.

Story: Jackson Brodie is a typical depressed, divorced and chain-smoking hopeless P.I. Three cases land on his table: a child's disappearance more than 20 years before, a 10 year old unsolved murder, and a missing person. The stories of Jackson's investigations into these cases, his private life and the lives of some of those involved intertwine and in the end some things are solved for the participants and others only for the reader.

Review: This is something of a flow-chart kind of story. The character's paths cross and uncross and recross and in the middle stands Jackson and tries to fit together the pieces of the mysteries. The characters are interesting and Atkinson doesn't just pull them out of a hat fully formed, but gives them backgrounds that explain why they are the way they are, whether it be the woman who grew up neglected, Jackson's daughter who in some respects is very mature and in others a complete innocent, or Jackson himself. The POW changes from chapter to chapter so that we get to see events and people sometimes from several different angles, and while the story starts slowly, it quickly picks up the pace. When I was about halfway through I found I could not stop reading it.
While this is a literary mystery, the plot is something you could easily find in a by-the-book mystery – it is the writing style and the character-driven story that makes it literary. Another thing that divides it from a by-the-book mystery is that there is no Justice in the sense it is usually understood in genre mysteries – the wrongdoers ending up in prison or getting punished by the Law. It is justice of a different kind that is dealt out in this story, and while there are resolutions, some of them are only for the reader, not the characters, to know, somewhat like real life. However, there is a certain fantasy element regarding Jackson that I found highly satisfying after having read so many stories about depressed, divorced and chain-smoking hopeless PI's who don't seem capable of ever changing...

Of interest to mystery fans is seeing how one of Van Dine's principal rules of mystery writing is soundly and successfully broken in the story, making it truer to life than a by-the-book mystery.

Rating: An enjoyable and interesting character-driven literary mystery. 4 stars.

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(not that they work – for some reason Technocrati only picks up the tags in my photoblog, not this one. Not that I intend to stop trying :-)


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