‘An astonishingly complex and moving literary detective story that made me sob but also snort with laughter. It’s the sort of novel you have to start rereading the minute you’ve finished it’ Guardian
In Case Histories we’re in a Cambridge that’s sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet – Lost on the left, Found on the right – and the two never seem to balance. Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, Jackson attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected…
The Jackson Brodie novels were the first Kate Atkinson books I bought, one at a time as they were published. I was in love straight away. From the first novel Case Histories to her long awaited fifth in the series Big Sky, we are let into the world of this slightly world weary PI. Each time he collects cases that seem so disparate, but eventually overlap and connect. Atkinson has a unique way of blending very dark subject matter – missing persons, sex trafficking, modern slavery – with a sarcastic sense of humour and love of literature. Of course the investigations are serious and their subject matter is treated with care and diligence. However, some of the scrapes Jackson gets into and his frustrations with the women in his life are funny, acting as light relief. Atkinson has a very clever way of ending her novels without all the loose ends tied up – an issue that mentioned in a negative light in a lot of her reviews. I prefer that. Life isn’t tied up all neatly with a bow on top and I would imagine it’s quite rare when investigating crime. Often what we want to know, and rarely do, is why someone carries out a crime.
It’s maybe in an attempt to answer this question, that the author takes us deeply into the lives of all the characters involved, including their inner worlds. There’s an empathy and humanity to the writing that isn’t always present in crime fiction, in fact it does remind me a little of J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith for the Cormoran Strike series. There are critics of this style, with reviews commenting that there’s a focus on character above plot. I like that. I want to be invested in a character, otherwise I’m unmoved when things start happening to them. Atkinson also delves into areas of life that I’m interested in. Jackson has a penchant for finding life’s underdogs and more often than not, trying to rescue them. He finds those struggling after divorce, or with massive changes in life, the homeless and the destitute. They’re inbetween people who need help. It could be Jackson’s training as a police officer or his just in his DNA, but he wants to help people.
So If I’m asked what it is that grabbed me at the first novel and still hasn’t let go all these years later? I’d have to say it’s Jackson himself – and that’s before Jason Isaacs was on board for the TV series. Jackson is one of those men that could have the house burning down around him and I’d still feel safe. There’s an honour code about him, almost like a charter of correct behaviour. Yet on the other hand, there are rules he’s willing to break. He almost always gets too close to the client or a witness, showing a dedication to them that might explain his divorced state when we first meet him. There are times when he struggles to let go too, ending up with a dog to mention just one incident. If there’s a rule, such as keeping work and home separate, Jackson will break it for clients. As a result he doesn’t protect his own space, time or even safety. It is that dedication that endears him to me. I understand it, because I’m not great with boundaries myself. I read the book imagining an abrupt manner with a gruff Yorkshire accent. There’s something a bit Sean Bean in his manner. He has an undefinable something, that draws women to him.
The settings are interesting too, with the second novel set during the Edinburgh Festival, the third in Devon and the fourth and fifth in his home county of Yorkshire. Jackson is settled in North Yorkshire in the final novel Big Sky, divorced again but in a routine seeing his teenage son Nathan and their shared Labrador when his ex-wife Julia allows. This is the most settled Jackson has ever been and it’s nice to see him grounded in life. We waited a long time for a continuation in the series and Atkinson didn’t disappoint. In her inimitable style she presents several, seemingly disconnected, characters with various different problems. Jackson meets a man on a cliff top that leads him to a sinister network. He gains a client who claims she’s being watched and followed, which Jackson is starting to think is a paranoid delusion, until he follows her and witnesses her children being abducted. Only Atkinson can bring these strands together, not in a tidy way, but like a rough tapestry overlapping strands to make a beautiful whole.
It was great to see returning characters, like the sparky protégée Reggie who is now a police officer investigating a paedophile ring. I was hoping for DI Louise Munro because I know she and Jackson have unfinished business and lots of chemistry. The whole tale is bookended by a personal mission; Jackson helping his daughter be a runaway bride. It’s good to see a slightly more responsible Jackson, forging relationships with both of his children and staying in one place. I would recommend this series to readers who enjoy a combination of dark secrets and crimes, a wonderfully sardonic sense of humour and characters that get under your skin. I don’t know if there will be another novel in the series, but I do love the existing stories and re-read them from time to time. Atkinson is an incredibly skilled writer and if you pick up her Jackson Brodie series you won’t be disappointed.
Meet the Author
Kate Atkinson is one of the world’s foremost novelists. She won the Costa Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her three critically lauded and prizewinning novels set around World War II are Life After Life, A God in Ruins (both winners of the Costa Novel Award), and Transcription. She was appointed MBE for services to literature in 2011.
Her bestselling literary crime novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog became a BBC television series starring Jason Isaacs. Jackson Brodie returns in her new novel Big Sky.