Case Histories

Monday, January 2, 2012

Case Histories
by Kate Atkinson

There’s something about chilly winter nights that just calls out for reading mysteries. This book is a particularly good choice if you’re looking for one this season. Instead of the typical private investigator fare, the book could more accurately be described as literary crime fiction.

Case Histories feels like an anomaly in the mystery genre. There aren’t the usual detective clichés or cheesy lines. Instead it is distinctly literary, focuses on excellent writing instead of just the case at hand. But it also has a can’t-put-it-down plot that made me read the whole thing in 24 hours.

The plot follows three separate cases, all from different years. They are unrelated, but Jackson Brodie, a private detective, is the common-thread. Because there are three separate mysteries, plus a few side-plots with the detective, there are continuous reveals through out the book. It never becomes a tedious wait for the big finish and by the end the author wraps everything up beautifully.

Mysteries are usually so plot-driven, but the characters in this book are amazingly well-drawn. The first three chapters explain the different cases and each one feels like a short story that could stand on its own. Within a few pages I was completely sucked into each characters’ story. I loved how the they were told from multiple view points. It gives each case an added depth to see the situations from so many different angles. Atkinson also includes parenthesis throughout the book, which I loved. Each one gives extra insight into the characters’ thoughts.

The three cases include a wide variety of characters. There’s a man, Theo, and his sweet daughter Laura; Victor and Rosemary, two people who are incredibly ill-suited for parenting, and their daughters Sylvia, Amelia, Julia and Olivia. Then there’s Michelle, her husband Keith and their baby Tanya. Each family experiences a tragedy that rocks the very foundation of their world.

Jackson’s own issues work their way into the story as well. He and his ex-wife Josie are trying to find a balance, in their newly separate lives, in raising their 8-year-old daughter Marlee. You would think that such a diverse cast of character would be confusing, but each one is so unique that they hold their own spot in your mind as you read each chapter.

If you love a good mystery, but appreciate great characters and writing, don’t miss this one! I’ve already ordered the sequel, One Good Turn, from PaperbackSwap.

"Theo wondered if those people who were destined to die young had some kind of premonition of the shortness of the hours and that gave their life an intensity, a seriousness like a shadow."


Kristi said...

I have the first three of this series on my shelf. I'm so glad you enjoyed them. I can't wait to get to it. I love character-driven stories, and I do love mysteries, so it's nice to find the combination of the two in one book. Most mysteries fall flat for me because of the clichés, so it sounds like this one avoids that.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I loved this book when I read it years ago, before blogging. It is so rare that you find a really good literary mystery. In fact, I made Atkinson a "project" for 2012 and bought a couple of her books on my Kindle. Ultimately I would like to read her whole backlist.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Many years ago a read a dreadful translated version of Behind the Scenes at the Museum and it put me off Atkinson for a long time. it was only after starting reading book blog that I've decided to give her another try. Everyone recommends that I start with this one!

nomadreader said...

As someone who loves literary fiction first and mysteries second, I still can't believe I haven't read this one! I must rectify this omission in 2012. Also on my must-read literary mystery list: Tana French.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - I have the exact same problem with mysteries. I enjoy them in theory, but they are just so cliche. This one was so much better than I was expecting.

Sandy - I would love to read more of her work as well.

Alex - I hate it when that happens. I have authors that I've written off for one reason or another and I should probably give them another chance.

nomadreader - Tana French is high on my list for this year too!

Jenners said...

You totally captured why these are mysteries but almost not really. I loved this book!! In some ways, I find it more about the characters and less about the mysteries.

B said...

Oh I really want to read this. I believe it was Nymth's review that brought this book to my attention. I've had it on my TBR without any sense of urgency to get it. But now that you said it's a can't-put-down and you read it in 24 hours, I'm thinking I need it this winter.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Absolutely, it's the wonderful characters that made it so readable.

Brenna - Nymeth's review is what hooked me as well. She's never steered me wrong.