I suppose it is timely that I read this book over the weekend and today the NYT posted its own review of Case Histories. Janet Maslin and I agree on several points. “There’s nothing fancy about the way Kate Atkinson’s new novel unfolds. Ms. Atkinson simply starts her story, grabs hold of the reader and doesn’t let go.” I knew the basic plot before I even began the book. There are 3 unsolved cases: a 3 year old girl goes missing one hot summer night in 1970, an obese widower sets in motion the chain of events that leads to the death of his favorite daughter in 1994, and an 18 year old new mother finds the onus of mother-and wife-hood too much to bear in 1979. The main character of the novel that ties all these together is Jackson Brodie, private investigator. You know that he will investigate these cases and that is the plot of the book.
So what makes this book so special? It is Atkinson’s writing that helps make this book more than just a standard detective story. She has a keen eye for details and that helps when you are twining together 4 stories. The plots twist and turn in unexpected ways. But it is also her exploration of the characters that makes this a lovely book. Jackson Brodie, recently divorced, has moved into a non-descript cottage.
“When he moved out of the house he had shared with his wife and daughter, Jackson went round every room in the house to check that nothing had been left behind, apart from their lives, of course. When he walked inot the bathroom he realised that he could still smell Josie’s perfume—L’Air du Temps—a scent she had worn long before he had ever met her. Now she wore the Joy by Patou that David Lastingham bought her, a scent so old-fashioned that it made her seem like a different woman, which she was, of course……When he moved into the rented house he bought a bottle of L’Air du Temps and sprayed the tiny bathroom with it, but it wasn’t the same.”
Brodie emerges from this book as almost too gentle of a soul to be doing the work he is doing—but that is what makes him good at it. You don’t even discover until towards the end of the book why he works as an investigator and then his work becomes all the more meaningful.
There is no great evil in this book, but neither are the cases easily solved. The answer is teased out and there are surprised in there, even though you think you might have it figured out. Once you pick up this book, you can’t seem to put it down until you get to the end.
P.S. Go here for more reviews.