Atkinson infuses the perfect balance of wit and suspense in order to create a novek skillful in it’s intrigue.
It’s a bold move for any writer to make the daring step from a writing style and genre that they know and do so well to something completely different. Many don’t succeed, failing to execute the same finesse in their new chosen field. So when Kate Atkinson decided to enter into the world of crime writing I will confess that I had my reservations. Given that crime fiction isn’t one of my favourite genres and given also that Behind The Scenes At The Museum rates as one of my favourite books of all time there was, for this reader anyway, great potential for disaster.
Thankfully I along with what seems to be a whole world of readers not only breathed a huge sigh of relief to see that she had succeeded in this move, but also rejoiced to see that she had far surpassed anyone’s expectations and nailed this genre. Indeed as many a fan seems to have noticed, it would appear that Atkinson has found a whole new platform for creating fabulous and compelling reads.
For anyone unfamiliar with Kate Atkinson it may be interesting to note that she started out her career with three novels that were worlds away from her latest ventures. Emotionally weird, Behind The Scene’s At The Museum and Human Croquet. Since then she has branched out into the world of crime with the widely popular novels Case Histories, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? Books that all follow the popular character of Jackson Brodie, an ex detective with a chequered past and a habit of getting involved in unsavoury business.
Now I foolishly did things a little backwards, something I seem to have a habit of doing. Instead of reading the books in their natural, intended order, I read When Will There be Good News? First. Thankfully due to Atkinson’s skilfully woven writing I escaped the pressure of feeling confused and unsure of what had transpired in the previous novels, and instead easily fell into the flow and style of this book.
This book opens with unprecedented brutality when six year old Joanna witnesses the ruthless murder of her mother, sister, baby brother and their pet dog. The family are making their way home when a young murderer randomly destroys her family; leaving her the sole and questionably lucky survivor.
After this shocking opening we are then whisked forward in time to the present day which is told rather disjointedly but with success, through the eyes of several characters. All of whom appear on the surface to be wholly unconnected but as the plot thickens the characters tantalizingly become embroiled within one another’s lives through the mysterious disappearance of a grown up Joanna.
One of the novels central characters and for me one of the most endearing people in the book is the plucky and brave Reggie. A young girl who is recently orphaned after losing her mother, Reggie has only a troublesome and uncaring brother to call her own. But in spite of her circumstances Reggie is witty, daring and full of gumption. She refuses to be ignored and when her boss Joanna Hunter goes missing will not give rest in her chase to find her.
Indeed it is in her relationship with the grown up Joanna, who survived the loss of her entire family, that we see a beautifully depicted friendship. Two characters protective and caring towards one another; both unaware that their dark, secret pasts will give them an even deeper emotional connection.
So when Dr Joanna goes missing Reggie shows no qualms in quizzing and exploring every avenue to get back her dear friend. But Joanna has just received grave news from detective Louise Monroe; her families killer is soon to be released from prison. A whole new can of worms is opened.
Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated plot, Jackson Brodie finds himself on a fatal train to Edinburgh, a train that tragically crashes leaving Brodie to wake up in hospital, his memory hazy and his only identification to indicate who he is, the ID of the very man who killed Joanna Hunter’s family all those years ago.
The only person who appears to care for his well-being is his atypical guardian angel, Reggie, who after helping to save his life begs for his expertise in helping to find her beloved Dr Hunter. Sparks fly and drama builds up with insurmountable tension as Jackson realises that he and Reggie are not the only one’s with an interest in her whereabouts; Jackson’s old flame Louise Monroe is also hot on the case.
The book has a healthy dose and perfectly proportioned balance of humour, witty dialogue, keen observations and enough drama and intrigue to ensure a fast and urgent pace presides throughout the novel.
Not only that but Atkinson also seems to have achieved her own unique stamp upon this genre, bringing her talent for creating interesting and complex characters, and her knack for adding humour to the ironies of everyday life; she ensures that she brings her own flare and style to crime writing.
My only slight criticism was that I really struggled to connect with one of the novels central characters, a person who much of the stories perspective was told through; Louise Monroe. I’m sure that many other readers will have loved this character. Her bolshy, no messing around attitude, her steely personality and reluctant to trust nature. I unfortunately grew to really dislike her.
I found her off-putting and her attitude within the book hard to stomach, perhaps it made me value more tender but still independent characters like Jo or Reggie? However nonetheless those moments when we slipped into her mind frame were for me frustrating and distracting.
Still I enjoyed this book for what it was, a good, easy to get into crime novel with an added height of intelligence and witty humour which elevated an already gripping plot. I didn’t necessarily have a book hugging moment, which off course is a defining moment for me in deciding me opinions on a book, but I was left keen to try this novels predecessors and anything that happens to come after it.
Has anyone else read this book or any of the other Jackson Brodie books? or indeed other Kate Atkinson novels? How do you feel her switch in genre’s has worked, what do you prefer? I would love to hear what you think.