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by Kate Atkinson
Doubleday, September 2004
304 pages
ISBN: 0385607997

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kate Atkinson has, for some years, been officially acknowledged as a Good Writer. Her short stories won awards and her first novel BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year, displacing such stars as Salman Rushdie and Roy Jenkins from the winners' constellation. This latest outing, CASE HISTORIES is unlikely to dissipate her reputation.

Hopping around in time has been a characteristic of Atkinson's earlier work and she employs the same technique in this book. Case History 1, that of the Land sisters, opens in 1970 with the disappearance of the (then) youngest sister, Olivia. Case History 2, involves the murder of Laura Wyre, solicitor Theo's younger daughter. Michelle, the 18-year-old mother in 1979, is a portion of Case History 3.

Private Investigator and retired police Inspector Jackson Brodie is the unifying thread in 2004. He is alive to the dangers of the world, nearly as protective of his daughter Marlee as Theo Wyre was, fruitlessly, of his daughter Laura. He has taken on the three cases. He wants to discover exactly what happened to Olivia Land, uncover the murderer of Laura Wyre and find out the fate of Tanya, Michelle's baby, when she grew up and disappeared from her aunt's care.

In addition to these cases, Brodie must shadow a suspected wandering air hostess wife (but only in England -- her husband doesn't want to incur too much expense) as well as answer the calls (unpaid) of mad old cat lover Binky Rain, whose house backs on to the Lands' property.

Jackson greatly resents his estranged wife's lover who has attempted to take Jackson's place in Marlee's affections. Now it appears that Marlee is to be removed from him altogether as her mother is to relocate to New Zealand. To add to his discomfort, it appears that someone is attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm, at the least, or death as the ultimate reward -- but for what transgression?

As the narrative syncopates through time, the plot becomes a little clearer. Family relationships are depicted in all their unpleasant reality -- why did the eldest Land girl become a nun, why did Michelle go to gaol, who was the intended victim of Laura's murderer. Then there is the mystery of what happened to the young Jackson's family as well as who is threatening the investigator's present well-being.

Atkinson's writing is evocative. Beautifully descriptive phrases (for example: '. . . Amelia, who had the swinging underarm flesh that would have made it easy for her to glide amongst the treetops') proliferate. The plotting is excellently done and the characters eminently credible while the fates imposed on them by the author are all too illogically believable. Their actions, foolish though they may seem to the reader, are all too possible reflections of what happens in Real Life as opposed to the fictional world.

Characterisation aside, if you, Dear Reader, are looking for a thumping good tale, read Kate Atkinson's latest work.

Note: The US version of CASE HISTORIES will be out in November (ISBN 0441740403)

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, September 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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