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Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - Book Review


Case Histories
Kate Atkinson
Black Swan

Fiction-Net Rating 3 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Cambridge is sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet - Lost on the left, Found on the right - and the two never seem to balance.

Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, Jackson attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected.

We Say

Case Histories introduces the reader to Jackson Brodie, a brooding ex-police inspector with an ever-increasing workload in his new role as Private Investigator. Given a little more padding than the 'ex-copper turned PI' we've all come across too many times, Jackson Brodie is a rather decent character but he does still feel a little too typical. Having never met a real-life Private Investigator myself, it's difficult to determine whether fictional PI's are a fair reflection of their real-life counterparts but if fictional PI's (and certainly, Mr Brodie) are anything to go by, I'll know one when I see one as they're all so damn alike.

Case Histories launches itself off the pages with three really good chapters, introducing us to three separate 'murders' and what we assume will be three sets of main characters. Olivia, a young child, disappears from a tent in her garden. Laura is stabbed to death but is her father, Theo, the real target? Finally, Michelle takes her husband's head off (almost) with an axe. Three seemingly unrelated incidents.

The fourth chapter brings Jackson Brodie into the picture and as "everything is connected" (according to the back cover text), we assume the three main cases will be somehow linked and necessary twists and turns apart, it'll all make sense by the end. But it doesn't, really.

Given that Jackson Brodie has only three main cases to solve, you'd think it would be relatively 'easy' to follow. Jackson, Victor, Olivia, Julia, Sylvia, Amelia, Theo, Laura, Michelle, Keith, Shirley, Nicola, Deborah, Josie, David, Jennifer, Binky, Marlee, Emma, Stan, Tanya, Lily-Rose - just a selection of the characters you'll need to keep track of if you have any chance of keeping up with Case Histories. It's not that the story is written badly - most of it is interesting and there are some brilliantly flawed characters - it's just put together like a rambling mess and it's near impossible to work out which characters you need to pay attention to. As I read Case Histories, I found myself wanting to write down the names of characters and relationships between them, just so I would have some chance of remembering who is who. New characters are constantly chucked at you throughout the book and it was quite a challenge to remember if I'd already been introduced to them.

Kate Atkinson has an innovative style and her previous novel Emotionally Weird earned a respectable four-star rating. Case Histories gets a modest three-stars. The main problem is that it's just too messy. Events are eventually sort of connected but only because the author has decided to connect them before the book finishes, not apparently out of any logical link.

There's a really good story trying to get out here but it's buried underneath a mountain of junk and a couple thousand too many characters.

Review by: Rob Cook

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