Friday, July 26, 2013

ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson

Two years after the windfall in Case Histories that left Jackson Brodie a wealthy man, he's in Scotland with his girlfriend, who's involved with Edinburgh's Fringe Festival.

A shady character who calls himself Paul Bradley--sometimes--is there too, driving through a crowded street, when suddenly a scruffy actor steps out in front of his rented Peugeot. Bradley brakes and swerves, a blue Honda Civic bumps him from behind, the driver gets out and comes after him with a baseball bat, and a laptop computer sails out from the onlookers and clips the Honda driver on the shoulder.

The Honda driver disappears. Nobody can remember what he looked like. Only one person took note of his car's license number: Jackson Brodie.

Enough said. Detective stories are meant to be read, not summarized. Kate Atkinson's plots are intricate and full of surprises. Her characters are nearly believable and usually hilarious. I'm not sure whom I liked better, Gloria the moralist ("If it had been up to her she would have summarily executed a great many people by now--people who dropped litter in the street, for example, they would certainly think twice about the discarded sweet wrapper if it resulted in being strung up from the nearest lamppost") or Martin the feckless crime writer (his current novel "felt even more trite and formulaic ... than his previous books, something to be read and immediately forgotten in beds and hospitals, on trains, planes, beaches").

Not to mention Tatiana the dominatrix, Archie and Hamish the teenaged thieves, Louise the frazzled detective, Richard the insufferable guest, Graham the mob-connected builder...

If it weren't for the fact that Atkinson tells a great story and keeps the pace brisk, I'd probably classify One Good Turn with literary fiction, not only for her witty style but also for the way she deftly probes her characters' motivations. I just wish she were bothered by comma splices. After all, as she herself pointed out, "Gloria liked rules, rules were Good Things."

But that's a forgivable flaw, even for this former English teacher and editor. Atkinson ranks right up there with P.D. James and Donna Leon as an author I love to spend my evenings with. James, who has written 16 mysteries, will turn 93 next week. Leon, who has written 22 Commissario Brunetti mysteries, is almost 71. Atkinson, with only 4 Jackson Brodie mysteries so far (© 2004, 2006, 2008 2011), is a mere 62. Ms. Atkinson, it's time for another one!

The publisher figured One Good Turn would be a good title for book clubs, so there are a couple of pages of rather tedious questions at the end. I agree that book clubs could enjoy this book, and I in no way blame Ms. Akinson for the questions.


  1. LaVonne, I just started listening to the audio book, beautifully read by Steven Crossley. If this book were a dessert, it would be something layered like Tiramisu, with delights on so many levels. I'm only on disc 2, but have already gone back to previous tracks a couple of times for second helpings because the writing is so delicious.

  2. Great to know! And glad you like the book. I'm ready to start book 3 now.