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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jackson Brodie Books by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is a Scottish author who has written a number of general fiction novels and short stories, and more recently a series of literate mysteries featuring the detective Jackson Brodie. I absolutely adore her older fiction, which is witty and odd and filled with wonderful characters and meta touches (Emotionally Weird has the narrator's mother interrupting the novel to complain about how it is being told; the narrator of Behind the Scenes at the Museum begins, brilliantly and funnily, at her conception), so it is with some apprehension I look at the success and skill of the Brodie books, which are much more conventional. I hope she has not abandoned her previous style entirely.

Which is not to say that her mysteries are at all a disappointment; I've enjoyed Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News quite a bit (Started Early, Took my Dog was just released in hardcover). While some aspects of the books are standard to the genre, such as tragic backgrounds, a bitchy ex-wife, adorable children and pets, lots of injuries and violence, last-page twists, and a surfeit of failed marriages, Atkinson's incisive, smart writing shines through. The plots are intricate puzzles, and Brodie does not so much solve them as stumble repeatedly (but likeably) into coincidences. The characters are fully realized and fascinating; in particular Reggie from Good News is a stand-out. Brodie and the other "white hats" are flawed but intelligent and self-aware, and their innate goodness is apparent despite their mistakes and misdeeds. Above all there is a sense of wit, and a recognition of the absurdities and ironies of life, that make the books enjoyable to read even as horrific things happen to characters.

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