Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

'Investigating other people's tragedies and cock-ups and misfortunes was all he knew. He was used to being a voyeur, the outsider looking in, and nothing, but nothing, that anyone did surprised him any more. Yet despite everything he'd seen and done, inside Jackson there remained a belief - a small, battered and bruised belief - that his job was to help people be good rather than punish them for being bad.'

Cambridge is 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. His days are full of people clamouring for answers and explanations. A jealous husband suspects his wife. Two spinster sisters make a shocking find. A solicitor investigates an old murder. A nurse has lost her niece; a widow, her cats.

Jackson has never felt at home in Cambridge, and has a failed marriage to prove it. He is forty-five but feels much, much older. He is at that dangerous age when men suddenly notice that they're going to die eventually, inevitably, and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it. Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life is brought sharply into focus.

Ingeniously plotted, full of suspense and heartbreak, CASE HISTORIES is a feat of bravura storytelling that conveys the mysteries of life, its inanities and its hilarities. It is a life-affirming work of profound insight and intelligence.

Jackson Brodie is a former police officer who has set up his own private investigator business. He becomes involved in three old cases, in addition to the one investigation that he already has where he has been enlisted to try and prove that a wife is cheating on her husband. The first case is 20 years old, and involved the disappearance of a 3 year old girl called Olivia Land. The Land family is very strange, and the three remaining older sisters are, what could only be called dysfunctional, and yet can it be that between the three of them, they may be able to provide the key details that will help unlock the mystery of what happened to their younger sister on a hot summer night so many years ago.

The second case has its roots in the apparently open and shut case of a young mother who apparently killed her husband. She asked her sister to look after her young baby, and after serving her time in jail, has now disappeared. Unfortunately the sister has lost track of the daughter and is now trying to track her down.

The third case is over 10 years old, and is about the seemingly random murder of 18 year old Laura Wyre. Her father has never been able to put the death of his beloved daughter behind him, and having collected every scrap of evidence he has been able to find, has asked Jackson to see if he can figure out what happened to her.

Whilst investigating these cases, Jackson also needs to deal with his own personal relationships. His relationship with his ex wife is somewhat hostile, but Jackson is doing his best to be a good father to his young daughter, a task made somewhat more difficult by the fact that Jackson seems to be having a bit of difficulty staying out of trouble at the moment! Jackson is also quite closed off about his past, but in the end some of those events in the past are the very ones that shapes the current Jackson.

Jackson is in many ways the quintessential jaded detective - hard bitten, unable to connect properly with others on many levels, and yet he is also more than that. I guess the word that I am looking for is probably multi faceted.

Woven through the narrative is also the story of a schoolteacher, who has suddenly realised that she is not happy in her life and is getting ready to run to a new life, not for the first time! Which of the cases is she connected to. It makes sense when you read the book, but the other characters are in many ways completely unaware of her.

Whilst this is a mystery book, it is also not a mystery. In some ways it is a character study of the people left behind when crimes are committed. Many of the characters seem to have no other connection other than through Jackson, and yet there are small things that happen in everyday life that also unknowingly connect these people as well. The other interesting thing is that whilst the reader knows the answers to that most basic of questions in any mystery - Who did it? - it is not necessarily the case that the characters have that same resolution.

Overall, quite an intense, but good, read!

Rate 4/5

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  1. This sounds like something I would enjoy! Another one for the wish list ;-)

  2. I didn't really care for this book. I haven't given up on Kate Atkinson but there was just something missing here.

  3. I didn't care for it at all either. It was the first by Kate Atkinson that I read, and it has put me off reading anything else she has written. But it is always good to read others experinences with the same book.