One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (2006)

Jackson Brodie PI Series #2 (Book #1 reviewed here )

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland

Last February I read and was enthralled by Kate Atkinson’s murder mystery, Case Histories, finding its unusual structure and haunting prose mesmerizing. It remains a mystery to me why I waited so long to pick up the second book in the Jackson Brodie series. When I finally did this weekend, I was happy to find One Good Turn every bit as enjoyable as Case Histories.

Atkinson causally rebuffs almost all of the hallmarks of the PI murder mystery genre: her stories move very slowly; they are steeped in humor; little time is given to the process of solving the case; and minimal page space is devoted to the murderers and their victims. Unlike almost all other murder mystery writers, Atkinson does not rush her stories nor her characters. She takes her time to introduce them  — to delve into the past and present —  so that by the end the characters feel more like close friends that characters.  Despite these departures from the norm, her books remain wonderfully compelling and feel extraordinarily rich, like great literary works with a bit of murder thrown in.

In One Good Turn, we find our protagonist Jackson Brodie is not enjoying his sudden wealth and retirement as much as he anticipated. In Edinburgh with his girlfriend, Jackson stumbles onto not one, not two, but four (seemingly unrelated) crimes being committed. He is unable to convince local authorities that he is not, in fact, the perpetrator and as a result his useful insights that may link and solve the cases are overlooked.

Joining Brodie in Atkinson’s cast of characters are Martin (a neurotic, reclusive, fiction writer) Gloria (the 60 year old wife of one of Edinburgh’s wealthiest men), and Louise (a newly minted police detective. All three are quirky and unique and, together with Brodie, will unveil small secrets that will link the strange string of crimes being committed throughout the city together. The characters are reliably British: droll, pessimistic, long-suffering, rule followers, who, despite these traits, bring a delightful level of levity and laughter to the darker elements of the story.

As the plot unfolds we learn a great deal about all of the stories four main characters, as well as quite a bit about several more satellite characters, and also a bit about the attempts to solve the crimes that are taking place. I say that the story is “a bit” about solving the crimes because that aspect of the novel really remains in the background…the true richness of the story lies in the gorgeous character sketches.  Indeed, in the closing chapters, it is almost as if finding who-done-it is rather anticlimactic mostly because by then the characters have resolved their personal crises and moved on.

All in all, a great mystery series for those love good writing, who are are fans of well-developed characters and — as a bonus — a great option for those who like the genre but are are sensitive about stories with too much gore (of which there is hardly any in this book)


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