British,  Crime fiction

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Many of you already know I am a huge Kate Atkinson fan, especially of the Jackson Brodie series. However, I started reading the series in an unusual order: #3 (When Will There Be Good News) , #2 (One Good Turn) and I thought it was time I read #1 (Case Histories) and made the most of it by re-reading #2 and #3, read for the first time #4 (Started Early, Took my Dog) and be ready for #5 (Life After Life) to be released next March.

From Book Depository:

Case one: A little girl goes missing in the night. “Case two: ” A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac’s apparently random attack. “Case three: ” A new mother finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making – with a very needy baby and a very demanding husband – until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape. Thirty years after the first incident, as private investigator Jackson Brodie begins investigating all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge . . .

First of all, reading Case Histories after the following installments played against me: I already knew Brodie’s fate and as soon as certain characters who also happen to appear in the following books appeared I was sympathetic to them. Leaving the cons of my weird reading routine, I really, really enjoyed the book: it took me only three sittings to be done with it.

In Case Histories we are presented with the main character, Jackson Brodie as he faces his new life as a retired police and army man. When I first encountered him two years ago I was not sure I liked him, he is one of these flawed characters, very far from the morally hiper-correct detective from the English’ Golden Age of detective fiction. But as I got to know him and explored his relationship with the world, I liked him and I even found myself thinking I would have acted the same way. His faults allow Atkinson for a greater discussion of ethics, morality and social norms.

Regarding the stories, the reader discovers them as they read, meaning that there is no clear structure and Atkinson shifts from one character to another just to surprise you with another that perfectly fits into the story. It is a puzzle with an unknown number of pieces and it is just as we start to make it that we see how many we have. All of the stories explore different realities from 20th century England from a psychological, ethical, philosophical and social point of view. Atkinson never posts these questions directly but, instead, she makes the reader work at them.

The style is pure Atkinson: easy to read and understand, acid, humourous, reflecting everyday language and behaviours and full of intertextuality with other literary works, from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to Freud’s own Case Histories which play a key role. The characters, all flawed and all at loss, can clearly be approached and understood from a Freudian point of view and the way she explores their psychology although not overtly psychoanalytical, hints at a second psychoanalytical reading. However, this is only one of the many interpretations, because Atkinson very much like Margaret Atwood, offers infinite layers of interpretation for the reader to think and reflect.

All this adds to make Atkinson one the best detective fiction writers out there. I will never get tired of recommending her.


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