26 September 2011

Surprise! Surprise!

My expectations for a good book are probably pretty low. I don't demand big truths like Barbara Kingsolver. I like a story well told. I want to read about characters who are more than marionettes or caricatures. I like realistic stories to remain realistic and for fantasy stories to make me wonder.

As I finished Case Histories while sitting in front of the little lake named Blake, I realized I'd gotten more than I expected from a good book. Kate Atkinson's book took me by surprise because I expected just another mystery novel. This one was more.

The story is well told, but it's told in little episodes from different points of view. Sometimes the episodes were only a paragraph long. Sometimes the voice telling the story switches from one character to another with little warning. As a reader I had to constantly be "on my toes" -- no groggy reading or skimming through this one.

The book begins with three tragic and horrific short stories set in 1970, 1979, and 1994. A child disappears, a young woman is murdered, and a girl runs away from neglectful grandparents after her father is killed by her mother. Gradually these disparate events begin to come together in the files and investigations of a private investigator in Cambridge (UK). Former police investigator Jackson Brodie is approached in the course of a few days by people involved in these three "cold cases" for help in resolving them.

There are two or three principals involved in each of the stories, and Brodie is an experienced investigator who asks good questions and has good instincts for evaluating the answers he gets. Most of the people he meets and talks to are interesting and complicated, and, as the story progresses, so is Brodie. Atkinson sends him off into very personal internal daydreams in the middle of interviews sometimes, and they are very revealing. As distracting as those were to me as a reader, they didn't seem to distract Brodie from his quest for more information. However, Brodie's past includes a couple horror stories as tragic as the ones he's investigating.

I thought that Atkinson's writing was so evocative of the characters' emotions that often I could only read short bits at a time. It's realism without improbabilities. Well, there's one big and one smaller improbability, but I can always let a remote coincidence or two slip by. Neither the story nor the characters depended upon the improbabilities.

Case Histories is the best book I read this summer. Since summer is officially over, that's a wrap.

So, who recommended Kate Atkinson? Come on, out with it. You deserve some credit somewhere in karma. Have you read Case Histories or another of Atkinson's novels? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it (them).

Jason Isaacs (actor who plays Jackson Brodie) interviews Kate Atkinson about the BBC adaptation of Case Histories

Trailer for the BBC series Case Histories

Teaser for the BBC series Case Histories


Ken Wedding said...

And guess who is showing up on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS Sunday evening. Yes, it is Jackson Brodie, star of Case Histories.

"Case Histories

"Set amidst the iconic landscapes of modern Edinburgh, Case Histories brings to television the delightful jigsaw puzzles of Kate Atkinson's bestselling novels and the complexity of her hero Jackson Brodie, played by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter)."

Ken Wedding said...

I saw the first of three installments of Masterpiece Mystery's version of Case Histories. It was based on the book I read, and I thought it was well done. The transition from the printed page to video is not easy, but this one succeeded.

A review of the TV series from the LA Times