After a string of mediocre reads starting in mid-March and culminating in my first DNF of the year, I needed a win. I was just getting over the worst of the flu but pretty much still couch-bound and sick of TV, and I just wanted something easy and enjoyable to read. Turns out, the answer was staring me in the face. Literally. On the shelf beneath the TV, Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories looked up at me and said Trust in me, only in me. (I may or may not have still been running a fever.)
Atkinson’s Life After Life and the followup A God in Ruins were one of the big revelations of 2018 for me, and I just knew that the first of her Jackson Brodie mysteries was the perfect remedy for my reading doldrums that wouldn’t overtax my fragile, just-off-the-boil brain. Brodie is an ex-cop private investigator in Cambridge who spends most of his time either tailing cheating spouses or going on wild goose chases for a fragile old woman who had been his first client after leaving the constabulary. It’s through this association that Brodie becomes ensnared in three separate cases: the unsolved disappearance of three-year old Olivia in 1970, the unsolved murder of 18-year old Laura in 1994, and the estrangement of Tanya, an infant in 1979 when her mother Michelle was convicted of murdering husband Keith with an ax.
All three of these cases seem fairly mundane and somewhat sad to Brodie, who has little hope of turning up anything useful for Olivia’s surviving sisters, Laura’s still-grieving father, or Tanya’s icy aunt. But this being a mystery novel, things are neither as hopeless nor as straightforward as they seem, and before long, Brodie is defending himself from multiple deadly attacks and wondering if he should just walk away and finally retire to France as he’d always planned.
Kate Atkinson’s writing is the star here: clear and direct, entirely readable yet also literary. She builds distinct characters and effortlessly brings their stories together with Brodie at the center of the action. The cynical former-cop-turned-PI isn’t a new idea, but she makes the book fresh through structure and characterization. And it was those character details that really hooked me, details like Brodie’s affinity for female country singers: Alison Moorer, Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, and so many other greats. This would make a great plane or beach read, and for me, it turned out to be the perfect flu recovery book. Atkinson has written three more Jackson Brodie novels since this first in the series, with another due sometime this year, and I have the feeling I’ll read and enjoy them all.