British,  Crime fiction

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn (2006), by Kate Atkinson is my second reading of the Jackson Brodie series, started with Case Histories in 2004. Summary from Book Depository:


It is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a suspect. With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self. Unputdownable and triumphant, One Good Turn is a sharply intelligent read that is also percipient, funny, and totally satisfying.

The following review is spoiler-free:

This is my second reading by Kate Atkinson. Apparently, I am reading the series backwards, having read When Will There Be Good News? last summer, but this does not take the pleasure out of the reading. I was already familiar with Jackson Brodie and Louise appears in this novel for the first time, although I was already familiar with her. The rest of the characters come from the previous novel, Case Histories, which I haven’t read yet, but apparently Julia also appears on it, and she is the reason why Jackson is in Edinburgh. What I loved the most is that the characters are very, very complex. Like real human beings, they have many layers and it takes yet another chapter to get to really know what they really think or who they really are. But, at the same time, they change with every chapter and it gets even more interesting to know them and the reasons behind their behaviour. These are the main characters:

  • Jackson: An ex-detective dating Julia, an actress who is working at the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Louise: A Scottish detective with a fourteen-year old.
  • Gloria: A rich housewife.
  • Martin: A best-selling author of crime novels.

In a typical Atkinson move, the plot is easy to follow, yet complex enough the make the reading challenging and addictive. The story (or stories!) is told from the point of view of Jackson, Louise, Gloria, Martin and a unkown man. In a very modern-apporach, their lives seem to be connected in any unthinkable way. Also, Atkinson makes a great use of the Matryoshka structure, imitating the Russian dolls, there is a story within a story, blurring the limits between real life and fiction.

Like great crime novels, One Good Turn denounces different social realities and flaws. From Gloria’s status as a rich housewife to Louise’s struggle with her fourteen-year old with complete access to the Internet and a good private education, there are a lot of questions to be answered. Atkinson makes them to the reader, in an attempt to make us reflect and reach a conclusion for ourselves. Morality is then, key to read One Good Turn and review it.

For me it was that relative morality what made me enjoy the novel the most. Atkinson does not want to lecture the reader, there is not a didactic purpose: the characters are flawed (just like real-life people) and they know it and try to make the most of life. Then, they behave according to their personal situation and their problems and whether that behaviour is justified, moral or ethic is for each of us to judge yet, highly justified by the events in the story. There is no good/bad division in this book. Everything is grey.

So, One Good Turn is a great read, a great novel in every sense of the word. I am becoming a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and plan on reading the whole Jackson Brodie series. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes crime fiction. It is so rich and it has so many layers of interpretation that every reader will get a different interpretation and a different story.

Also, Atkinson put the English detective novel back on the spotlight when book shops are flooded with detective fiction and is difficult to distinguish good, high-quality reading from more commercial and forgettable literature. She is definitely a must-read for fans of the genre and her novels will make the reader reflect on long-held assumptions and beliefs. A five-star reading!



  • Rikki

    Very good review, Elena. I usually don’t read much detective fiction, unless it is cozy or historical, but maybe I will give her a try. Especially because I love Edinburgh as a location since I started reading Alexander McCall Smith.

    • Elena

      Thanks, Rikki! When Will There be Good News?, the following in the installment, also takes place in Endiburgh.

      I haven’t heard/read Alexander McCall Smith, now I have some research to do tonight! Thank you 🙂

  • amanda

    I haven’t read any Atkinson yet, but I watch a TV series adaption of three of the Jackson Brodie novels last summer. (I think it might have been a BBC series?) I really liked the series, so I’m excited to hear that the novels are as good as I hoped.

    • Elena

      I haven’t watched the adaptation… and I don’t think I will. I think it’d spoil the characters and events as I have pictured them in my head. The novels are amazing, if you like detective fiction I really encourage you to read it 🙂

  • kenyanlibrary

    I just finished this and enjoyed it massively but I am still trying to wrap my head around it 🙂 nonetheless it was a gripping character-driven crime novel 🙂 Lovely review 🙂

    • Elena

      Thanks for commenting on an old post! It made my day. I’m afraid I’m a sucker for anything Atkinson writes. I will love it. I still haven’t read her latest novel, because that would leave me with no Atkinson novel left unread until she publishes something again… I hope you keep reading the series, though.

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