Book Review: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

case histories

Favourite quotes:

“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”.

“The possibility of a meteor colliding with the earth doesn’t mean that we should embrace the Americanization of our language and culture”.

 

I was looking for more books like the Cormoran Strike series when I stumbled upon the Jackson Brodie series. This is my first Kate Atkinson.

In 1970, four-year-old Olivia Land, youngest of the four Land siblings, goes missing from her family home where things aren’t as picture perfect as they appear. In 1994 Laura, a beautiful office worker is murdered in cold blood in her office. In 1979 Michelle, a young mother seemingly kills her husband in a fit of rage. And a retired police officer turned private detective Jackson Brodie is tasked with investigating all three cases. At first glance, there seems to be no link between them, but once Jackson survives several attacks on his life and deals with his cat lady neighbour, he begins to suspect that not everything is what it seems. Soon, his own life isn’t the only thing that stops making sense and starts taking a dangerous turn. The players of all three cases become an integral part of his day-to-day life. Can Brodie deal with the Land sisters paying all kinds of attention to him, the grief of Laura’s father, and the deceptively sweet demeanour of Michelle’s sister? His life is changed forever, but how far does the change extend?

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be hooked – perhaps not right away, but within the first quarter of the book or so. I like my mysteries to be gripping, haunting, and I like to be unable to pull away from the book. I also like to have a resolution at the end of my mystery novels or at least an ending that leaves the reader longing for Book 2 right away. Unfortunately, “Case Histories” failed to satisfy my expectations in that regard. It started off with a large chapter of info-dump about one of the three cases that make up the essence of the “mystery” in the book, and halfway through the chapter, I was really bored with the picture I was seeing. However, I kept on reading and as I did, I was met with a cast of frustratingly unreliable narrators, including Jackson Brodie himself, several confusing time jumps and narrative jumps that made it hard to tell when, and where exactly each character was at that time. I wouldn’t have a problem with the latter if it were used as an integral element of the mystery, but I didn’t see any evidence of that in the novel.

A good murder mystery doesn’t have to be fast-paced at all, but I do believe that there has to be some action with a certain degree of build-up. “Case Histories” had several instances of “present-day” action like murder attempts, but there was no build-up to them. It felt as though they just came out of the blue – for me they were “blink-and-you-miss-it” moments. And with the constantly changing narrators that described the aftermaths of these plot advancements, I had a really hard time understanding what actually happened. It was the same with revelations. I like to have at least some hints to the resolution of a mystery added throughout the course of a novel (like in “Gone Girl”), and I’m sure my fellow mystery lovers would agree that a reader would prefer to be on track to figuring out the main mystery, or mysteries. However, in “Case Histories”, these revelations were just thrown at you casually, and you had no chance to figure them out prior to their appearance. It was, quite frankly, frustrating.

Going back to my earlier point about my preferred ways to end a mystery novel, “Case Histories” once again didn’t satisfy my expectations. SPOILER I did receive some answers, but I wasn’t satisfied with them – they were either coincidental or completely random. Perhaps the rest of the answers is provided in Book 2 in the Jackson Brodie series, but with the way the first book frustrated me, I don’t have any desire to get the second one END SPOILER. An open-ended mystery novel can work really well – “In the Woods” by Tana French is a terrific example of that. This wasn’t the case, however, with “Case Histories”. Not only did the writing style didn’t appeal to me, but not a single character stood out to me, and there was really no-one I could root for. Don’t get me wrong – I love a villain or an anti-hero, but in order for me to enjoy them, they have to be interesting and I have to have at least some understanding of their motives. “Case Histories” did not provide me with clear motivations for the parties in the cases, and these parties were really, really bland. This isn’t due to the writing, but it’s due to who they were written to be. If the author’s intention was for the reader to not care about anyone, she has succeeded.

I am sorry to sound so negative – the book wasn’t the kind of book I’d DNF, and the narrators did manage, albeit barely, to keep me engaged enough to make it through to the end. However, there are a lot of mystery novels out there that are a lot better, and I recommend that you go for them instead of the Jackson Brodie series. My rating of “Case Histories” is 6/10.

 

Recommendations

You might just enjoy “Case Histories” if you liked:

“The Cormoran Strike series” by Robert Galbraith

“Dublin Murder Squad series” by Tana French

“State of Play” TV series

 

Have you read the Jackson Brodie series? Have you seen the adaptation with everyone’s favourite blond Death Eater Jason Isaacs? What are your favourite mystery novels? Drop me a comment! 🙂

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