Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book #52 Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories

The second female writer I have chosen is Kate Atkinson who rose to public notice when her debut novel 'Behind The Scenes At The Museum' won The Whitbread Book Of The Year. This novel, Case Histories, is the first of (currently) four Jackson Brodie novels in which the protagonist is an ex-soldier, ex cop and at the start of this novel, a private investigator. It came to my attention through its recent enjoyable adaptation on the BBC, which was an adaptation of this novel and subsequent Brodie novels One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? as a six part series. I'm something of a purist, and though I've seen the adaptation, I don't feel I can read new novel 'Started Early, Took My Dog' until I have read the three preceding novels.

The novel introduces us to three old unsolved cases, that Jackson has been approached with to investigate:   

The first is the disappearance of Olivia Land who vanished aged 3 in the 1970's from the family garden, and was never found.

The second is the shock murder of 18 year old Laura Wyre, ten years previously, for whom no killer nor motive could be found.

And the third is a guilt ridden woman searching for her sisters long lost child.

What is interesting is that all three cases are women and 'Lost Girls' seem something of a recurrent theme for Brodie, who himself has an unresolved case of a lost girl in his own life.

What is slightly off-putting when you do see an adaptation first is the differences between the TV and the book, there are subtle differences in each case, but the two most glaring differences are the end of the story (for Jackson) and its setting which, thoroughly Scottish in adaptation is located in Cambridge in the book. This makes some sense though as the two following novels relocate to Edinburgh, so the adaptation just moves all three books there. I did find it interesting whilst watching it, that in the first two episodes which show the stories of Case Histories; all Jackson's clients are clearly English and not just English and living in Scotland, but this goes unremarked on. This is a fault of the series not the book though, which is true to its setting.

It is difficult not to write a review that merely compares book to show, as this is the immediate thought. Unfortunately having seen the show I knew the outcome of each case. In many ways this didn't matter, what is great about Case Histories is that it is neither a crime novel nor solely contemporary literary fiction, crossing both categories admirably. A well written contemporary novel that happens to feature the investigation of mysteries. Perhaps the Land girls story is a cliche, and perhaps Jackson realises what kind of suspect killed Laura Wyre too quickly but he is an ex cop and ex army. The overall novel is very well written and held together nicely by the characterisation of Jackson himself, an extremely likeable man. If you didn't see the series, good as it was, I think you are lucky as you get to view the cases with fresh eyes, enjoy the story and then get the DVD and enjoy watching scary Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) become smouldering Jackson Brodie.

The ending of Case Histories seems to suggest that further Brodie novels were not planned, but perhaps Atkinson like the reader, finds Jackson Brodie a little hard to resist. I look forward to reading the other novels particularly recent new novel 'Started Early, Took My Dog' 8/10

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