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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing third outing for Jackson Brodie, 15 Nov. 2009
This review is from: When Will There Be Good News?: (Jackson Brodie) (Paperback)
"When Will There Be Good News?" is the third novel Kate Atkinson has written about former soldier and policeman turned private investigator, Jackson Brodie. I found the premise of this book intriguing from the publicity around its release and its cover blurb, but went back to read Case Histories and One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery before coming back to this one. "Case Histories" was somewhat contrived but I still found it hugely enjoyable and with a satisfying ending. "One Good Turn" was, as sequels often are, weaker than the original, but it was still a mostly enjoyable read. "When Will There Be Good News?" is the least accomplished of the three novels and a book in which Atkinson's immensely readable writing style fails to hide considerable limitations in plotting, pacing and characterisation.

The novel opens with an effective flashback, a description of a disturbing crime in which a mother and two children are murdered in country fields following a summer's day picnic, with a third child managing to escape the carnage. Unfortunately, the book is downhill all the way from this opening chapter. I don't want to give away any details but suffice to say that the central mystery of the novel takes nearly two hundred pages to appear and is finally resolved in a deeply unsatisfying and unconvincing "throwaway" manner that has evidently, judging by many of the reviews here, left many readers feeling frustrated and cheated, as I did. The previous Jackson Brodie novels relied on unlikely coincidences but just about got away with it; here, Atkinson tries and fails to have all her characters and plotlines collide, to an unconvincing degree and to limited dramatic effect. Atkinson has also in the past given every player in her story a hellish past personal life, which has felt somewhat overdone at times, but in "When Will There Be Good News?" the author finally goes all out for pain and misery for all concerned and the effect is somewhat numbing by the end. Some sections depicting the circumstances around the demise of a loved one of a key character feel very obviously inserted for poignancy and are clearly intended to tug on our heartstrings, which tends not to work where there are so many of them and where we have barely seen the relevant dead friend or relative involved.

The main issue here is the story, which is simply not good enough, taking too long to get going and too little time to wrap things up and with a minimal "mystery" element. The other major problem is Kate Atkinson's depiction of her characters. For plot contrivance reasons, the personal lives of both Jackson Brodie and DCI Louise Monroe have since "One Good Turn" both taken unlikely turns that don't seem plausible given the backstories they have been given via the previous novels. The key character here of Dr Joanna Hunter doesn't add up and doesn't seem real. One character is frequently referenced throughout the novel as if we will see something of him and he will mean something, but disappointingly he turns out to mean very little indeed. A lot of readers have mentioned the issues with the worldly-wise teenager Reggie Chase; I actually found her one of the more true-to-life depictions here, which I think probably shows how underdeveloped the characters are in this book.

On the basis of "When Will There Be Good News?", I am going to pause for thought before I pick up a Kate Atkinson novel again. The book is overall, unconvincing and feels in need of some tough love from a good editor who would curb the author's excesses of coincidence and contrivance and bring out more of the story. I also feel I have to note that the book's central crime and the incident Brodie finds himself mixed up in are both very obviously lifted from newspaper headlines of recent years; I also can guess the less well-known real life horror that has inspired another crime depicted here. For me personally, this made feel a little uncomfortable when reading through the novel.

Atkinson needs to go back and take a look at her characters and write stories for them that really ring true, cut down the coincidences and bring back more of the ultimately hopeful spirit that "Case Histories" had going for it.
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