"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Case Histories

TITLE: Case Histories
AUTHOR: Kate Atkinson

This is the first book by Atkinson to feature PI Jackson Brodie, but this is no standard mystery. Told non-linearly, a number of case histories from various dates in the past are presented and Jackson, in the present, ends up investigating or following up on most of them. There's the challenge for the reader to see how they all might intersect or connect, from the murder of an 18-year-old woman to the disappearance of a 5-year-old girl, to the woman who killed her husband while her infant daughter watched. Atkinson feeds the reader information in her own due time, revealing only what she feels important at the time she wants the reader to know it. In some ways, and in lesser hands, this can feel manipulative, but Atkinson is a marvelous writer who pulled me in with her evocative prose. Her characters, from the dysfunctional middle-aged sisters of the long-lost little girl, to the grossly overweight father of the dead young woman, to the sister of the woman who went to prison for killing her husband, come fully to life. Least of all is Jackson, himself, who has to deal with his ex-wife, his young and precocious daughter, attempts on his life, and a painful past of his own.

Nothing is as it seems in this book, which makes the case for never assuming you know what's going on and to never judge a... yeah, I'll say it, a book by its cover. Case Histories is about secrets and human frailties, misconceptions and inner strength and what people are truly capable of, good and bad. Jackson might not get all the answers to be had, but the reader does, in a most satisfying manner. It's rare that I jump into another book by the same author without mixing something different in first, but the sequel to Case Histories is next on my reading list.