When Will There Be Good News?
Wanting to take a break from the often heavy tones of Booker nominees I returned to Kate Atkinson's sequence of novels about Jackson Brodie the former soldier, cop and private detective in search of something none too difficult to read.
In this the third novel, Jackson has given up living off his inheritance in France and somewhat vaguely works as a private security consultant. He haplessly boards a Edinburgh train rather than a London one and finds himself in a serious train crash and reunited with Louise Monroe the detective and love interest he encountered in One Good Turn.
Like other Jackson Brodie novels the theme is "lost girls" or women generally in peril. We have :
Joanna Hunter, a kind motherly doctor with an unspeakable past, and an entrepreneurial husband, who is mixed up with dubious associates.
Her "mothers help" Reggie Chase, a sixteen year old wise beyond her years, struggling to escape from the tough hand she has been dealt.
and Alison Needler, a victim of a violent crime whose nerves are in ribbons and whose husband and attacker is still on the loose.
The heart of this novel is Reggie Chase, and as with previous Jackson Brodie novels I liked the blend between contemporary literary and crime. The crimes are occurring but the focus is these characters and their lives. Reggie Chase is a great little character and was portrayed brilliantly by Gwyneth Keyworth in the recent BBC adaptation. She embodies all the girls you feel could stand a chance at "becoming something" if it weren't for their terrible backgrounds and lack of support.
Unlike in One Good Turn when Jackson's presence at every crime seems ridiculous, in this case he is a victim, who then tries to help the person who saves him (Reggie). This then gives him an excuse to reconnect with Louise Monroe and the two regret the fact that the changes in their lives mean it is again impossible to take things further.
There is a small subplot involving Julia Land, Jackson's ex client and ex girlfriend, she now has a child Nathan which she swears isn't Jackson's but Jackson isn't so sure. Strangely, this plot goes absolutely nowhere, so why include it?
Likewise the Alison Needler case, a story of a woman whose husband went beserk at a children's party is a really interesting storyline but is barely explored, the story of Reggie and Joanna is front and centre. It seems wasted, like if it had been done in more detail in a separate book it would have been better and Marcus features so little as to make his storyline a bit "So what?"
As with other novels that I have discussed previously Emma Donoghue's Room and Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, there is an issue with art mirroring life. With this book I was extremely uncomfortable with the way in which the old crime described at the start of the novel mirrored the "Josie Russell case" from some years ago, in which she survived but her mother and sister died. Show some imagination, write your own crime, don't just exploit what someone else went through.
The Reggie/Jackson dynamic and the Reggie/Joanna dynamic are really lovely though and make the book an enjoyable undemanding read. I would really have appreciated more Louise and Jackson time though. The conclusion of the book, almost presses the reset button on the way Jackson's life has changed since Case Histories, and so it will be interesting to see where Started Early, Took My Dog and other subsequent novels take him. I still really like him as a character
A good if flawed novel with characters you care about : 7/10