Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kate Atkinson: Case Histories

Jackson Brodie, private investigator, is looking into three cases; these bring back memories of the much earlier murder of his own sister – and on top of everything else, someone is trying to kill him and he doesn’t know why.

Case 1: a 3 year old girl called Olivia disappears in the middle of the night from a tent in the garden. Years later, two of her older sisters find her soft toy mouse in the locked drawer of their father’s desk after he dies and turn to Brody for help in solving the mystery. The tale involves the garden of their neighbour, an old woman with the unlikely name of Binky Rain who keeps an awful lot of cats.

Case 2: a young woman of 18 is murdered in her father’s office and her killer is never found. Ten years later her father comes to Brody to see if he can track down the killer. Brody talks to the right people, previously away at the time and therefore left out of the investigation, and of course he identifies the killer without too much trouble.

Case 3: a young mother, in the throes of post-natal depression with a baby who never stops screaming, kills her husband. Her sister takes the baby, but doesn’t look after it as promised, because the dead husband’s parents take the baby girl. The girl grows up, becomes a runaway, and disappears. The sister comes to Brody to ask him to look for the girl. This sister sleeps with him, he figures out that something about her story is off, then he finds out she’s married, so he drops her case. In the meantime, the sister who was in prison is now living under another name and has married again (to a very rich man) and is pregnant.

Binky Rain, from Case 1, is always calling Brody in to look for her lost cats. He often visits her, feels sorry for her, and never charges her for his services. It turns out that the person trying to kill him is related to her - but you'll have to read the story to find out why he wants him dead and how this leads to a happy ending!

The three cases are linked by a homeless girl on the streets of Cambridge, whom some of them give money to and some try to ignore. This girl is, of course, the missing child from Case 3. She ends up saving the life of the father from Case 2, who then takes her in to his home, and they look after each other.

At the very end, Brody, now very rich, is looking for a house to buy in France after retiring and selling his agency. He’s together with Julia, from Case 1, who turns up again as his partner in Atkinson’s next book (One Good Turn) which I read not long ago, set in Edinburgh during the Festival. In that book all the different puzzle pieces do end up being connected, whereas in this one they’re not really connected and all the names get a bit confusing at times (or it could be due to mildew on the brain); in any case, Atkinson is a brilliant and funny writer, and I’m looking forward to reading whatever follows!

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