Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.
(Case Histories – Kate Atkinson)
Having heard a lot about Kate Atkinson’s latest book Life after Life lately, and never having read anything by her, I was happy to discover a couple of books by her in my bookshelf recently. I picked them up at the November 2012 meeting of the Bookswappers Club and had almost forgotten them by now (more on forgetting recent, and less recent, book acquisitions in this post). The one I decided to read this month was Case Histories, the first in her series of novels about the detective Jackson Brody. The other one is a somewhat later book in the series, so I might have to find the in-between books before reading it.
I was not quite sure what to expect of the book, and was happily surprised. Although the book has the structure of a detective story, there is not all that much detecting going on, and the ending is not quite as neat and tidy as one could would expect in crime fiction. Instead the book opens with three stories of crimes, which are so well crafted that they could be read as short stories in themselves. The focus is on the thoughts and emotions of the characters who are all flawed to some degree.
The rest of the book also focuses on the inner lives of the characters involved, rather than the mysteries. Even the detective, Jackson, spends more time being nice to grieving fathers and lonely sisters, than he spends doing any real investigation. The book is a page turner, but it is not so much the solving of the mystery that draws the reader forward but rather the fate of the characters in the present, whose lives have been ruined by the events of the past.
Jackson is a compassionate personality, and I love how he even cares about the rather terrible old Binky Rain (who is a great character, in my opinion). His inner monologue is cynical, honest and funny and it lends humour to a story with a dark subject matter. Even the attempts at Jackson’s life are described in a rather deadpan and humorous way. “He turned to go back into the house. And the house exploded. Just like that.”
This book is funnier and warmer than most detective stories. But it is also sad, horrifying and heart-breaking like any story about death and loss.