It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival, and in the heart of the city, crowds throng the streets. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a brutal road-rage incident - an incident that changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander - until he becomes a murder suspect.
This reads like a superbly directed fast-moving movie, you see the scenes in your mind, you feel the thrill of the chase, the twists in the plots and you feel the confusion in Martin, an author of cosy detective stories, as he is unwittingly dragged into a web of intrigue and murder.
Police detectives, ex-policemen, a suspicious agency of cleaners, a self-centered actress, an intrepid writer, a comedian wearing an unfortunate accessory, henchmen,the Russian mob and a couple of dead bodies are all thrown into the swirling cauldron. It had all the potential for a murky mess, but instead this is a very well constructed and captivating read.
Excellent read and that leaves one more to go to be ready for the BBC screen production of the first three Brodie novels on PBS in October. That should be fabulous because I think Atkinson's work should translate easily to the, er, small screen. Very highly recommended.
The story opens with a vicous episode of road rage on the streets of Edinburgh which ends with one driver being beaten senseless by the man whose car had shunted into him. The crowds queuing to enter one of the venues for a show on the Fringe look on aghast, but all are frozen into inactivity and are incapable of intervening ... with one exception. Martin Canning is an unassuming and physically unimpressive man, but as he watches, horrified, while the beating continues, something in his mind snaps and he hurls his rucksack at the attacker. This breaks his flow and the interruption causes the attacker to withdraw. Martin Canning then accompanies the victim to hospital and stays with him for the rest of the day.
We gradually learn more about Martin Canning who, as Alex Blake, has been a very successful writer of crime novels in the 'cosy' mode. Little does he realise that he is about to be sucked into a plot that dwarfs the ones from his novels in its complexity and capacity to terrify.
Meanwhile Jackson Brodie, who also witnessed the attack, is in Edinburgh with his partner Julia Land, an aspiring (though not particularly talented) actress who has landed a part in a play being staged at one of the Fringe venues. Brodie has an interesting past - former soldier, former police inspector, and former private detective, he is now more or les retired after having inherited a huge fortune from one of his clients. He is, however, restless and struggles with his luxurious life.
While preparations for her play take up all of Julia's time he takes to exploring Edinburgh and, after some aimless wandering, ends up at Cramond, one of Edinburgh's affluent commuter overspill towns. He wanders across a causeway to an island in the Forth where he discovers the corpse of a beautiful woman. However, before he can summon help, or even secure the body, the turning tide sweeps in and pulls the corpse away, almost drowning Brodie into the bargain.
These are just two of the more prominent plot-lines, though there are several more, all of which are deftly handled, and resolved with a masterful denouement. Brodie is a brilliantly drawn character - far from flawless but overwhelmingly sympathetic. In fact, all of the characters are equally credible and engaging.
AND, there's even a cat!
And this book...seemed to be the same way (except that I spent the first 124 pages trying to remember which characters were in "Case Histories" because I can't seem to find my copy)...until I hit page 125. And then - she got me. I was sucked in. At that point - I had to know what happened, had to know more about these very interested and extremely flawed characters. And? All the coincidences that were piling up were intriguing as well. Atkinson dances right up to the line of cheesiness with all of the coincidences...but doesn't cross it. Instead, she just got me turning the pages faster.
The magic of this book is that it is so well written that the reader doesn't feel guilty for devouring a page turning mystery. Descriptions like: "...the kind of books that Martin wrote, in the person of his alter ego, Alex Blake. They were old-fashioned, soft-boiled crime novels featuring a heroine named Nina Riley, a gung ho kind of girl who had inherited a detective agency from her uncle. The books were set in the forties, just after the war. It was an era in history that Martin felt particularly drawn to, the monochrome deprivation of it, the undertow of seedy disappointment in the wake of heroism. The Vienna of The Third Man, the Home Counties of Brief Encounter." So well written - I feel exactly what she is describing.
Also - there are little asides that each character has that are both insightful and humorous. "Gloria didn't believe in heaven, although she did occasionally worry that it was a place that existed only if you did believe in it. She wondered if people would be so keen on the idea of the next life if it was, say, underground. Or full of people like Pam. And relentlessly, tediously boring, like an everlasting Baptist service but without the occasional excitement of a full immersion." What seems like a serious musing has that twist of British humor that gets me every time.
Another example of that is this (also from Gloria): "She imagined the little factory of cells that was her body taking in the chocolate and fat and flour (and probably carcinogenic additives) and sending them off on conveyer belts to different processing rooms. This industry, dedicated to the greater good that was Gloria, was run on cooperative, profit sharing lines. In this model Gloria factory, the cells were a cheerful, happy workforce who sang along to Worker's Playtime from a Tannoy radio. They were unionized and benefited from subsidized housing and health care..."
In a mystery? I love it!
The characters of Gloria and Jackson were the most compelling to me. I kept finding myself wanting to steer them in different direction because I was worried about them. They were the most optimistic, sometimes absurdly so...and I wanted their hopes to prove true, even when pitted against certain doom.
Though I am nothing like an Anglophile, I always enjoy the feeling of tea, chintz, dark woods and musty drawing rooms that seem to accompany many books set in the United Kingdom. This book has that feel as well...plus many mentions of biscuits and takeaway. Which I am a sucker for.
Like I said, when I started this book, I was reminded of my disappointment with the first book. When I finished One Good Turn, however, I was filled with delight that there is another book coming in the series.
And the end? THE END? I sooooo didn't see that coming - but I loved it!!!!!
“It was a type he loathed – a young, dark-haired guy with thick, black-framed spectacles, two days of stubble, and a fag hanging out of his mouth, there hundreds of them in London, all trying to look like French existentialists from the sixties. He’d bet that not one of them had ever opened a book on philosophy.” (Ch 1)
Which is fine, because I really like Brodie, even when he's acting like an idiot, because he's so human about it, and because Atkinson is a fine writer, good with words and character development. She can also thread together seemingly disparate plot points as well as anyone.
In this, an incident of road rage in a Scots town in the midst of a fair, sets things in motion. Brodie, there with his lover Julia, from the earlier Case Histories, who is performing in a play there, ends up a witness to the incident. He also finds and loses the body of a young woman who might've drowned, meets a tough-minded woman detective who has a teen son who might or might not be in legal trouble, and finds himself the target of the attacker in the road rage incident. Throw in a murder (in a case of mistaken identity) and a housing/real estate scandal, and you end up with a complex tale well told. Just don't expect Brodie, supposedly the main character, to be the focus. He is, at times, but he has to share the spotlight.
None of the festival crowd trying to negotiate the streets of crowded Edinburgh is quite prepared for the case of road rage unfolding in front of it over what is, after all, only a very minor traffic incident. One driver, though, emerges with baseball bat in hand and seems anxious to start swinging it. As the violence escalates, some members of the crowd, including Jackson Brodie, ex-policeman and retired private detective, are moved to do the right thing, choices that do not go unnoticed by the maniac with the baseball bat.
Upon the arrival of the authorities, the crowd quickly breaks up and all the witnesses go their own way with the exception of Martin Canning, a rather effeminate writer of throwback mysteries, who accompanies the road rage victim on an ambulance ride to the hospital. A Kate Atkinson novel is never simple, though, and when the psychopathic driver decides to hunt down the witnesses to his road rage, Atkinson begins to juggle half a dozen plotlines that seem, at first, to have little to do with one another. Atkinson develops each plotline on its own, fully developing her characters along the way and, as she did in "Case Histories," gradually overlaps the characters to tell a story bigger than the sum of its parts.
Atkinson peoples "One Good Turn" with a colorful assortment of characters, all of whom will have their lives changed forever because of a random traffic accident that has nothing to do with any of them. Jackson Brodie, feeling a bit emasculated by all the money he inherited from a former client, is in the city because Julia, also from "Case Histories," is there to perform in a festival play. Gloria, wife of sleazy homebuilder and thug Graham Hatter, witnesses the accident while on an outing with a flighty friend of hers. Newly promoted police detective Louise Monroe learns that her 14-year-old son and his friend were thrilled by the violence they witnessed. Throw a few illegal alien Russian women, a circus, a mistaken-identity murder, a dumb-as-a-post psychopath, and a disappearing drowning victim into the mix and things tend to get a bit wild.
Be advised that, as usual in a Kate Atkinson novel, the reader must pay strict attention to all the characters and their goings-on in order to appreciate the intricate plot that Atkinson weaves. No snoozing allowed.
I thoroughly enjoyed "One Good Turn" but Atkinson does stretch “coincidence” to its breaking point often enough that I have to limit its rating to four stars.
Rated at: 4.0
This plot was hard to sum up for someone as wordy as me so I’m borrowing the one I saw on Amazon. HOWEVER, if you haven’t read Case Histories yet (the first book in the series), skip this description as it contains some spoilers for the first book.
Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam—the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage—a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit. Suddenly out of retirement, Jackson is once again in the midst of several mysteries that intersect in one giant and sinister scheme.
The first thing you need to know about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series is that it really isn’t about the mystery (which in this book was rather convoluted … but in a good way). The real attraction of these books is the writing—the way Atkinson inhabits the various characters and gives each of them a unique, believable and (oftentimes) amusing voice. I almost think of these books more as comic novels rather than mysteries. However, Atkinson does weave in murder, mistaken identities, fraud and some rather inappropriate police behavior. In addition, there are moments of real emotional heft that unexpectedly tug your heart-strings when you aren’t expecting it.
Like in the first Jackson Brodie book, Case Histories, Atkinson weaves together multiple story lines. Although each story seems unrelated at first, Atkinson manages to tie them all together neatly. Yet in both books, I found myself unable to remember exactly what the mystery was and how it was resolved after finishing the book. Isn’t that weird? Yet this didn’t really bother me. (Honestly.) It isn’t that the plot doesn’t make sense, but that it was almost beside the point. Atkinson has this effortless, witty way of writing that is a delight to read, and I’ll continue on with this series until it finishes up—loving every step of the way.
Readers who enjoy character-driven mysteries with labyrinthine plots that are heavy on the humor but still manage to pack an emotional punch.
I found the individual thread entertaining, especially Jackson Brodie's story and another plot thread which initially appeared to be unrelated to the road rage incident. It was gratifying to learn how the assumed loose thread was tucked back neatly into the story and the story ended with a satisfying conclusion. I look forward to reading other in this series.
This is the second of two novels Atkinson has penned that feature the now ex-detective, Jackson Brodie. In this outing she has taken the character to Edinburgh, a brave move considering the extent to which Rankin's Rebus has cornered the market in describing the criminal underlife of the Scottish capital, but one that worked, at least in the view of this reader.
1. She uses commas where one would expect semi-colons, probably because if she didn't there would be a semi-colon in every other sentence. It's a very weird effect at first, but I got used to it.
2. She writes sentences about people wondering things which make you think the character is just thinking that, and then the other character responds to it and you realize Character A was actually speaking out loud. I found this irritating.
3. If a dog is mentioned, you know it is not going to end well. I think someone once told me that there are always dogs in Kate Atkinson books and they always die. Indeed, this book featured a (vicious) dog dying, mention of a dog being horribly killed in one character's past, and a very sad cat death. And the included excerpt of the next book in the series came flying out of the gate with a dog being killed while trying to defend its family. This sort of thing is Not Easy on me. I have a distinct memory of cheering as my mother choked her way through Beth March's death (even as a child I had no patience with characters being aggressively perfect at me), but to this day if you want to make me burst into tears in public you just have to whisper "Where the Red Fern Grows," in my ear. I am actually crying a little bit just from typing it.
And yet I ordered the three other Jackson Brodie books the second I put this one down. Atkinson's writing is that good. Brisk, clean, and so funny. Maybe lovingly mocking Scotland isn't as funny to someone not of Scottish origin, but when she described the Scottish religion as "alcohol, football, [and] feeling badly done by," I knew this woman had me locked in.
This book, and the others in the series, are classified as mysteries. I would not have called this one that: it is very reminiscent of Ruth Rendell's books, in which Bad Things happen and there is usually one character involved with the law and investigating, but the point of the book is the character development and the way that the banalities of life intersect to create small individual tragedies. In Rendell the characters are all deeply disturbed and the tragedies are horrifying; Atkinson handled the same sort of layout very differently. I felt that she truly cared for each of her characters, and there was always the sense in this book that good is possible, that where there's life there's hope. This is made explicit at the end, in a lovely "yes, my life has just fallen apart, but that creates possibilities, and I'm still alive, and I'm driving north listening to country music," passage that was utterly what I needed to read right now.
I don't want to describe the plot, really, because it's very complicated and full of surprises and I don't think I could do it justice without spoilers. (It's not a spoiler that the cat dies: the minute you meet that cat you know it's not going to see the final page.) I just want to say that I kind of loved this book, and look forward to reading the others.
A nicely done, refreshing and intriguing book that kept my interest throughout. I have put this author's other books on my to-be-read list!
Having read all three books on the bounce, I did come to a point where I lost the threads of the plot and had to take a break from this one - but once I picked it up again a few days later I finished it with renewed gusto. I think it was Atkinson-overload - this writer certainly needs you to keep your brain switched on!
We meet a slew of characters: Paul Bradley a mysterious man who gets rear-ended, meek Martin, an author with little to no personal life and an in ability to say no, a cop named Louise and her son Archie who is hanging out with the wrong crowd. Then there's Gloria, a 59-year-old woman, trapped in a loveless marriage with a cruel man. Each person adds a new layer to the mystery.
BOTTOM LINE: It was good, but I didn't love it as much as Case Histories. Jackson Brodie is a fantastic character, and Atkinson is a master of drawing completely different plot lines together in a believable way by the end of the novel. This plot felt a bit too forced, but I’m looking forward to trying the next one in the series.
“A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.”
Case Histories is a great book. One Good Turn is a good book. This book is about coincidences. As the protagonist says, “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.” There are plenty to characters all linked by coincidences, with what I’m beginning to recognize as Atkinson’s trademark style of tying everything together in unexpected ways.
It’s a good read - not as great as Case Histories, but still well worth it.
Despite the gory events in parts of this story I enjoyed it for the mild tension, great character development and storytelling skills, humour and setting. All the main characters are men and there is a certain satisfaction for a woman to read about previously capable but flawed blokes getting into trouble!
It's a well-plotted and thoughtful story with enough humor and danger to keep us interested. I already have When Will There Be Good News (the next in the series) and I look forward to reading it.