I love a good mystery. I can tear through an absorbing mystery in a day, but I slow down for certain mysteries because of the depth of the characters. While Case Histories moves at a decent clip, the characters are sketched with more mannerisms and exposition than depth. To her credit, though, author Kate Atkinson is quite good at portraying the many forms of grief and loss. While I did not find this mystery very satisfying in the end, I do appreciate the effort that went in to exploring the losses, big and small, that each character experiences.
Case Histories is divided into chapters from different points of view and crimes. There is a trio of sisters whose baby sister goes missing one day, a woman who has reached the end of her tether, and the brutal murder of a young woman. There is also a private investigator who has his own chapters and the stories begin to weave together when his professional life intersects with the three cases.
Atkinson has a flair for colorful details that describe her characters, but I confess I found her style a bit tiresome in places. Piling on anecdotal details helps give the reader a more vivid visual of what the character looks like, but it isn’t really an effective way to get to a character’s core. For example, one of the three sisters is sketched as a flamboyant, overly dramatic, red lipstick wearing man chaser—as described by her disapproving, prudish sister—but we don’t really get a chance to see any deeper into her character; she just seems a collection of affectations. This may be a limitation of the reader mostly experiencing the character through the eyes of her judgmental sister, but it still made some characters feel very superficial—a mere collection of quirks and habits. However, there are other characters that pulled me in, like Theo, the grieving father of a murdered daughter. His goodness and his brokenness are woven together with great skill. Of all the stories in the book, his was the most interesting and touching.
Ultimately, though, the book left me cold. The mysteries are revealed in the end, but I found no satisfaction in the solutions. Maybe because I hadn’t connected with most of the characters on any deep level, so there wasn’t the expected catharsis. One of the endings in particular was forced and unconvincing. I don’t want to give away anything, but suffice to say, unlike Stephen King who was quoted on the book cover, I did not find it the best mystery of the decade. It was serviceable, but didn’t linger in any meaningful way.