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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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Jackson Brodie, a private detective, is investigating three old cases, which soon begin to converge and overlap. Three-year-old Olivia Land disappeared without a trace thirty-five years ago while sleeping outside with one of her sisters, two of whom have hired Jackson to find out what happened. Theo Wyre has hired him to investigate the death of his daughter Laura Wyre, who was killed by a maniac ten years before while working in her father's office. Shirley Morrison, Jackson's third client, is trying to locate her sister and her niece. Her sister Michelle, living with her husband and young daughter on an isolated farm, has vanished from Shirley's life, and after twenty-five years, Shirley wants to find her.
Atkinson's suspenseful and dramatic cases pique the reader's interest in the characters and their lives, especially the female characters. All have faced traumatic events and suffered through less than ideal childhoods, which unfold inexorably as the cases become more complex. Not a linear narrative, the novel focuses on different characters in successive chapters, moving back and forth in time to provide background and to set up the overlaps which eventually occur. The characters are sometimes bizarre, baffling, and even unsympathetic, but they are always memorable for their behavior and their justifications for it.
Filled with ironies and noir humor, the novel also reveals Atkinson's astute observation of social interactions, as she skewers some aspects of her characters' lives while also creating sympathy for them. While the first two case histories-that of the missing Olivia and the murdered Laura-are genuinely sad and regarded overall as tragedies, the story of Michelle Fletcher, and peripherally, her sister Shirley, is much darker. Neither Michelle nor Shirley elicits much empathy after the opening chapter, but the occasional interjection of their story line stirs up the action, changes the pace, and keeps the novel from being overly melodramatic. Atkinson's eventual revelations about Michelle's life provide Atkinson with some of her best opportunities for social satire and wit.
Readers will delight in Atkinson's characterizations, and the ironies are priceless--the room where Laura was killed has, ten years later, become a day spa named "Bliss," and the place where two other deaths take place becomes an elaborate garden. Atkinson saves the biggest noir twists for last. Though the cases are, in fact, all "solved" by Jackson, they are not really solved. At least five important "loose ends" regarding the perpetrators of these murders and disappearances remain, showing that even murder cases are not as "cut and dried" as one might expect. (4.5 stars) Mary Whipple
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on 25 September 2004
I love Kate Atkinson's work and this is no exception.
The novel centres around four 'Case Histories', the threads of which are brought together by Jackson, a detective living in present day Cambridge.
Each of the Case Histories occur at a different point in history; a 3 year old girl goes missing from a back garden in 1970 and is never found, a beloved 18 year old daughter is murdered in 1994, a harassed wife kills her husband in 1979 and the final case concerns some revelatory truths about Jackson's family.
Jackson meanders passively through the novel with relatives involved in each of the cases coming to him for help. He seems somewhat bewildered throughout the novel and he is the only character I didn't really feel that I got to know.
Kate Atkinson's prose is lovely and she has the knack of creating suspense, she moves us around in time almost creating cliffhangers so we are dying to know what happens next. Her characters are all mostly sympathetic and the tragedy in their lives makes you, on occasion, ache for them. You do get the impression that the purpose and drive they employ in trying to gain closure from these events in their histories is often an excuse to not get to grips with the other problems in their lives, be it weight problems, overcoming inhibitions in an uptight personality, or finding love. The threads of the cases are tied up somwhat neatly at the end, leaving a satisfying conclusion.
All in all, it's a great read and I recommend it to everyone!
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on 5 August 2005
I must admit that I am a fan of Kate Atkinson's style, so despite being a little put off by the "crime novel" tag (a genre which in general I cannot enjoy at all), I anticipated great things for this book. I was not disappointed in the least. It's very easy to give out 5 stars for everything you liked, but here I feel the novel really does deserve those 5 stars.
Although the book conforms loosely to a crime novel setup, the emphasis is, as always, on the unique quirks and foibles of the characters and the innate humanity of people. One gets the feeling that Kate Atkinson's plots, deliciously tangled and convoluted as they are, are vehicles for exploring character, response to events and development.
This particular novel is set up to read like a police file, with several unsolved cases linked by the main protagonist, Jackson Brodie. In all her novels, I have found that the main characters are a little bit transparent and lacking a particularly strong personality of their own, and Jackson Brodie is no exception. However, in my opinion this does not detract from the quality of the novel, as the multitude of minor characters serve to liven the story and "bounce off" the main character.
The style is definitely an acquired taste, but for those who like their books stuffed full of lively prose, small yet razor-sharp observations, a wry turn of phrase and a unique downbeat, deadpan and very black humour, I cannot recommend it enough.
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on 5 March 2006
Case histories follows private investigator Jackson through 3 unsolved case histories from the past. One missing child, one unsolved murder and a wife who murdered her husband. The results of each story are very surprising and not what you expect while reading the book. The story also delves deeper into Jacksons life. All the loose ends are tied up but still leaving something to the readers imagination.
The book is incredibly well written, not simplified in any way and doesn't state the obvious. Each character is very individual and not the standard stereotypes found in many novels. Suspense and mystery is built up very carefully and the ending still surprises.
An exciting mystery, with several funny moments too. Well worth reading and highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon 19 June 2005
This was one of those books that you cannot put down until you've finished it. Although a bit different to Kate Atkinson's other books, it was no less enjoyable. Although not quite a crime novel, there was a dark sense of menace that ran throughout the book. The characters were interesting too, with many secrets hidden under the surface just waiting to get out. Brilliant & the best book I have read so far this year.
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on 8 July 2005
Jackson, a private investigator acts as the protagonist in the story, he is always ready to do the right thing; basically one of life's good guy's. He is surrounded by a dysfunctional world that he struggles to understand, but is resigned to. He acts as the glue in the story to hold together the various cases of murders and missing people. Chronologically a little tricky, the story moving back and forth in time and between cases and characters, a story that in its own right is plausible enough though. All the Cases are unrelated but become connected together and in the end are nicely closed. The beauty in the book is Kate Atkinson's style and narrative she seams almost to dismiss as "the trivia of life", murder, rape, and pedophilia in a way that will bring a wry smile. Understatement is her stock and trade; this story is tragic but paradoxically will make you laugh. The portrayal and clarity of character is brilliant, characters we all know, a satire of those around us. The slight whiff of cynicism and political incorrectness here and there, in my view, is to be admired, as it actually adds to the books qualities. Damaged people are accurately depicted, nothing is too appalling that it cannot be trivialised in an amusing way.
A strong theme that shines through everything in the book is parental love; can you have too much, or too little?
Malter Witty
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on 20 November 2004
I read this book a few weeks ago and have been recommending it to everyone ever since. I read one of those 'books of the year' features in the D. Telegraph today and was amazed to see that no one mentioned this. It's certainly one of the most enjoyable novels I've read this year. Basically, it's a detective story, but written with such compassion and verve that it far transcends the genre. The first three chapters, in particular, are stunning - three different crimes which converge as the book goes on. I don't know if it's quite as good or original as Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but it's certainly hugely enjoyable and, ultimately, very moving.
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on 13 October 2005
I have never read Kate Atkinson novel before and was bought this as a gift. I was plesantly surprised at how gripping it was and I couldn't put it down to begin with, but felt a definite lull in the middle. I felt one of the "cases" was not particularly well "meshed" with the others which meant the ending didn't sit well with me. It was also spoiled by too much North American Private Investigator stereotype in the main character. This cliche was often extended in to the language of the book too which made it feel clumsy in many ways due to its British setting.
An enjoyable but flawed read.
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on 13 August 2007
I loved this book. It was well written and fascinating to read. The dark part of the tale is really black and very sad, but the rest of it really made me laugh. I just couldn't put it down.
I don't usually read detective novels so if they're what you like this may not be for you, but it would be a crime if you let the negative comments of some of the other reviewers put you off. Just try it.
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This novel is set in Cambridge and sees Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, as a private detective investigating three cases which go back a long way. The first involves a three year old girl who goes missing in 1970, when sleeping in a tent with one of her sisters during a hot, summer night. The second involves the murder of a young woman in 1994, whose father is unable to get over her loss and whose killer has never been caught. The last case, from 1979, involves the sister of a young woman who killed her husband and who has lost contact with both her sister and young niece.

The author deftly weaves these three storylines together, as well as telling the story of Jackson himself; a man whose wife has left him for another man and who fears losing contact with his only daughter. More than anything, this is a book about love and the mysteries of families. It is the characters that make a book worth reading and Atkinson has created a fabulous cast of people that you care about deeply by the end of the book. Whether it is the damaged and neglected sisters of a long lost toddler, an overweight father who struggles with his guilt of loving one child more than another, or the brilliantly written scenario of a young girl suddenly finding herself in a life she hates with both a baby and a husband she is unable to cope with, the scenes are painted vividly and with great reality. Jackson himself is a man who tries to do his best, while battling difficult cases, a raging toothache and the fact that someone is trying to kill him. This is an excellent start to a series I look forward to continuing and I am glad I discovered it.
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