Friday, June 3, 2011

Welcome Back, Jackson

I'm a Kate Atkinson fan from way back. When I read her debut novel “Behind The Scenes At The Museum” in 1997 I thought it was one of the funniest and most original books I'd read in a long time. Her next two novels were a disappointment for me, but then in 2000 she wrote “Case Histories” and launched the career of curmudgeonly private investigator Jackson Brodie. I've followed Brodie through three crime novels and now I've happily finished the fourth – Started Early, Took My Dog.

Brodie has long been haunted by the unsolved murder of his sister when she was a teenager. Perhaps that's what makes him sympathetic to his current case, a woman in New Zealand searching for the biological parents who gave her up for adoption in Leeds in 1975. The narrative switches between 1975 and the present, with each backward look revealing a little more of the crimes and cover ups that occurred. This plot weaves together with yet another case of a a child separated from a mother, an aging soap opera actress, a guilty conscience, tea shops, murdered women and Emily Dickinson. And then there's the story of the dog.

Atkinson is a master at mixing humor and violence, and at making the intersections of diverse characters and plots seem accidental rather than contrived. Brodie, simultaneously tough and introspective, broods about ex-wives (including the one who took him to the cleaners), lost loves and difficult children as he follows trails and avoids dismemberment. I hope Kate Atkinson isn't done with Jackson Brodie, because I certainly am hoping to visit him again.

PS The BBC is airing a six part “Case Histories” series in June – let's hope it makes its way to Masterpiece Whatever.
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