Review: Case Histories

Kate Atkinson (2004)

In 1970, a toddler disappears from the backyard tent where she was sleeping with her big sister on a hot summer night. In 1994, a young woman takes a temp job in her father’s law office where she’s savagely murdered by an unknown assailant. And in 1979, a new mother with dubious maternal instincts snaps and is found hours later cradling the bloody ax that killed her husband.

Such are the cold cases on the docket of Jackson Brodie, a private detective with a personal life as troubled as those of his clients. He has a contentious relationship with his ex-wife, who’s remarried to a man Brodie thinks is a jerk and suspects is worse. As a former cop, Brodie is an over-protective father to his teenage daughter. He’s also at the center of his own mystery—someone is trying to kill him—which may or may not have something to do with Binky Rain, an eccentric nonagenarian with a houseful of cats who was Brodie’s first, most frequent (and incidentally non-paying) client.

In general, Brodie has a pessimistic view of humanity and he could really stand to work on his people skills, all of which makes him a genuine and interesting character. Brodie is messy and complicated. He’s human, often saying or doing the exact wrong thing, but he’s a decent guy and a good detective.

Bouncing from case to case, mixing the personal with the professional, Brodie is surrounded by an appealing collection of characters, most of whom get their say in the pages of Case Histories. Atkinson’s literary style and her character development elevate Case Histories from standard run-of-the mill crime fiction. I was sucked in after the first chapter and for subsequent nights I was up way past my bedtime so I could read just one more chapter and then another and another. And I didn’t even mind when Atkinson wrapped things up just a little too neatly.

I really enjoyed Case Histories. It’s the kind of book I find myself casually recommending to anyone I know who enjoys reading, (“Hey, I’m reading a really good book right now…”) and when it was done, I had to force myself not to rush to the library to get the sequel. I’m pacing myself and waiting ‘til summer for that.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Case Histories

  1. I just checked out the second book from the library. I figured it would make an excellent summer read. I’ll review it here…eventually. 🙂

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