Saturday, November 15, 2008

Case Histories

A few years ago, Kate Atkinson received a fair amount of notice in the U.S. for Case Histories. (She had already won the prestigious Whitbread Award, so was presumably better known in the UK.) The buzz seemed to be that Atkinson had written a "literary crime novel" -- a work that garnered attention from mystery readers (the protagonist is a P.I.) and the higher-brow crowd as well. The cover blurb on my trade paperback comes from Stephen King, pronouncing the book, "Not just the best novel I read this year, but the best mystery of the decade." This edition also includes "Questions and Topics for Discussion" -- a book club book.

King's praise seems excessive, but I did enjoy Case Histories quite a bit. The appealing detective, Jackson Brodie, investigates a series of cold cases and a missing cat. While Brodie appears more than other characters, the clients also have chapters from their points of view. Atkinson writes with depth, emotion (but not overwrought or sensational), clarity, and some humor (though the book is sad). The book arguably lacks the pacing (and procedure, perhaps) and of genre mystery or crime fiction. The crimes' solutions present themselves, one feels, more than Brodie uncovers them (though he does still solve the crimes, more or less). Another reader might feel that the novel deserved a certain tightening, but I'm happy to see the genre bent, with characters illuminated against a backdrop of crime, and the muting of a certain breathless sensationalism that infiltrates too much crime fiction.


Teilo said...

Hi Doug,

I read "Case Histories" this summer and also enjoyed it. I also recommend reading Atkinson's previous novel, "Behind the Scenes at the Museum."

Thanks to Beth, and to Facebook, for linking us to your blog.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Teilo said...

And by 'us' I should clarify that Jim is reading beside me.

Doug Levin said...

Just caught your comments. Glad you liked what I wrote. I have been operating a stealth blog, but Beth has outed me. (BTW -- She read "Behind the Scenes..." and liked it, too.