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! 🙂

Book Review: The Minority Council (Matthew Swift Book 4) by Kate Griffin

swift4

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My reviews of the previous installments can be found here, here and here.

I’m sorry if you guys are sick of me posting about this series, but this is the last Matthew Swift book, I promise. Well, there are also two spin-off books but I don’t have them and probably won’t for a while (money!).

 

Last we saw of Matthew Swift, he’s just solved the mystery of The Blackout with heartbreaking consequences. The Midnight Mayor’s duties still have to be carried out, however, no matter how devastated our hero is. He does everything in his power to ignore everyone in the office, most of all The Aldermen whom he loathes, but that is proven to be difficult with the addition of a new giddy but quite lovely PA named Kelly, who never, ever, stops moving and rambling. A random meeting on a boat, however, makes Swift, for once, dive into the murky waters of politics. He meets a woman named Meera and they have an instant connection – of the magical kind. She is practicing magic nobody should ever even dabble in, and Swift tries to stop her. Then a strange woman shows up at his office and tells him that the kids in her local borough are acting “soulless” because some creepy shadow murdered their friend. His old friend The Beggar King also asks him for help – some of his charges are disappearing.

The common factors between those events? The Aldermen. More specifically, their relationship with magical drug dealers.
When Swift finds Meera dead in one of the dusthouses where fairy dust, a strong magical drug, is produced, he is enraged and ready to go to war with The Fairy Godmother (yes, that is the dealer’s alias). However, The Aldermen are being absolute, utter asshats politicians about that, and only one of them, Richard Templeton, agrees to help Swift. But can The Midnight Mayor trust him and make sure that his lovely Penny stays safe? And who is The Fairy Godmother? And who is the monster disguised as “The Neighbourhood Watch”?

 

Those of you who were there wil me on my Matthew Swift journey will be pleased to know that Swift’s sass and wit has not changed a bit, and he continues to be too sassy for his own good (literally). The fourth book may have more of a thriller vibe than other three, but it’s still written as a Matthew Swift installment – i.e. it involves wordy descriptions, side characters constantly reminding Swift that he’s a total git and either loving or hating him in spite of it, beloved characters of London magic doing their thing, and above all, Swift struggling with a bunch of entities within him (thankfully, no Robert Bakker in him anywhere this time!). This installment is particularly brutal on Swift vs angels and the reader. Thanks to the biggest asshole in this series villain, he pretty much acquires a split personality for a while (not sure how to better explain what happened). No more “I am we and we are me” for poor Matthew – the shift, the dissonance is rather sinister to read about. What happened to him(them), delivered a strong blow to Swift’s already fragile humanity. Which is dangerous for those who made him that way – the person that was the reason for Swift going after the dusthouses in the first place, was someone who made them feel human. London is what saves Matthew Swift. Nair was right to pick Swift as the Mayor for the reason he did – he would never be the city’s enemy. They are a part of London, and it is their city.

I hope my readers forgive me, but I’m about to make a Harry Potter analogy and apply it to Matthew Swift’s books.

“AMOA” is like “Philosopher’s Stone” – we get to know the world for the first time.
“TMM” is like “Prisoner of Azkaban” – main character-centric, and we meet a person who is going to be very important for him. Also my favourite installments of both series.
“TNC” is like “Chamber of Secrets” – focused equally on the main character and the villain.
“TMC” is “The Order of the Phoenix” of the Matthew Swift series. Politics, emotional turmoil, a villain I’d like to punch in the face and death of a beloved character.

“PoA” is my favourite Harry Potter book, but “OotP” comes a close second. The same is with Matthew Swift – “The Midnight Mayor” is my favourite of them all, but “The Minority Council” is a fascinating look into the way the system works in Matthew’s London. For once, Swift is not abruptly thrown into the middle of the action, but he actually chooses to pull The Midnight Mayor rank in relation to the “drug problem”. Needless to say, The Aldermen are not too happy with that – “It would be a shame for our latest Midnight Mayor to die starting a war he cannot win. After all you’ve only just started coming to the meetings”. We are introduced to the Minority Council – the Aldermen government body responsible for electing The Midnight Mayor – and we get answers as to why and how Matthew Swift, a dead sorcerer walking the earth together with the blue electric angels, ended up being one. The Council’s member, Richard Templeman, reluctantly agrees to help Swift take down the dusthouses where the drug is made. And that is when the real problems begin.

So yeah – this book features a lot of politics. But what struck me the most is the unexpected emotional turmoil the author put me through. I so should have expected that after the last book – and she did kill off another beloved character who could have been the perfect Midnight Mayor after Swift, but that’s not even the worst part. The Beggar King sums it up perfectly – “You’re a self-destructive infant with the power of a giant, but you’ve got respect for the little guy, for the f*ck-ups like yourself, and I like that”. This characterisation of Matthew Swift has caused me to tear up on a couple of occasions during certain moments. Most of the time though, I was too engrossed into the plot and too shocked by certain revelations to really cry, until I read the last line – “I sighed, shoved my hands in my pockets, bent my head down against the wind, and kept on walking”. The magic of London may not be real, but my emotions certainly were. Certainly are – it’s been three days, and I’m still experiencing a Matthew Swift hangover! And not just because of the plot and awesome characters. Magical London is an amazing setting, but my heart beat so hard when I was reading about the places I visited and fallen in love with time and time again. In this part of the series, it’s the Inns of Court, “a spacious lost world of paved courtyards, wind-tossed antique fountains, and cobbled streets, and of wide enclosed grounds with wrought-iron benches, gravel walks and perfect lawns”. Griffin is right – not many Londoners know about this little oasis in Central London. I, however, did visit it on several occasions when I was in law school, and it is absolutely stunning. Seriously, somebody should organise a Matthew Swift tour of London, finishing it off with a dinner featuring little cocktails sausages on sticks at a restaurant on Aldermanbury Square!

Of course, the book has its fair share of moments where I had to put it down and leave the room because I was laughing too hard. Sometimes, it was Swift’s sass, but most of the time, it was Penny, Dr Seah and Kelly. Who doesn’t love Penny, “sorceresss, ex-traffic warden, looking for the dream kick-ass job for a dream kick-ass girl”? She is the perfect best friend for Swift who can almost match his levels of sass. The Aldermen hate her for summoning the Death of the cities, which makes her even more awesome in Swift’s mine book. Also, Swift and Penny have my favourite literature-related argument – FRANKENSTEIN WAS THE DOCTOR NOT THE MONSTER! And I do love Penny’s take on it – “I can see how being called ‘Monster’ might’ve sucked – like kinda not leaving you many career options, is it?” Can Penny be my best friend already?! We even love doing the same things – “sitting in front of the TV, in a blanket, with the fire on, eating ice cream”.
Aaaaaaaaaaand I just realised Penny’s reason for doing that at that time. It’s been THREE DAYS Kate, stop crying already!
Lastly, I would just like to add that Penny Ngwenya, a badass sorceress, a kick-ass lady and practically Matthew Swift’s bodyguard, named a Tower of London raven Dave. How can you not love her?!

There’s also Dr Seah, a medical professional for the magical community with a peculiar relationship with the NHS. In every book, Swift ends up bruised and battered, but Dr Seah, albeit very reluctantly, patches him up. Not that he ever listens to her – “now, when I said ‘bed rest’, did you take this as, like, meaning the bed should get a rest, because I think we both know that wasn’t what I was getting at”. Oh that Matthew Swift… Although he does listen to her in this book when she says that bloodhounds “just can’t take their garam masala”. Yeah… I HATE hellhounds, psi-hounds, bloodhounds, etc. in literature and TV, but I sympathise with them in terms of garam masala.

And last but not least, we’ve got Kelly Shiring, the PA. Oh Kelly. How I love you. How you remind me of myself five years ago, at my first assistant job. Don’t let your undead sorcerer with a thing attached boss get you down! Swift’s reactions to Kelly’s… eagerness were hilarious, and I loved that she got her own backstory. I’ll always want Nabeela for the next Midnight Mayor, but give it a few years and Kelly will be perfect for it. She’s incredibly English in her appraoch, honest, determined and clearly knows what she’s doing. Her straightforward delivery matches Swift’s, but unlike him, she has no trace of meanness about her. She’s just that way.

It appears that I’m barely able to gather my thoughts to write a concise review for “TMC”. All I can say is – it is an amazing conclusion to the series, it introduces us to even more badass ladies and it will leave you inexplicably sated. That is, until you pick up the spinoff series, Magicians Anonymous. My rating for this installment is 8/10, but it is my firm belief that the entire series deserves at least a 9/10.

 

Favourite quotes

“Penny, I want you to be calm and mature about this, and not shout or anything, but I may have accidentally destroyed a dusthouse last night, and it could just be that a mafia boss who trades in narcotic substances for the magicaly inclined is going to try and kill me and everyone I’ve ever loved. Happily, everyone I’ve ever loved is either dead or absent at the moment, but, when he realises that, he may just go after everyone else in a fit of pique, and that, Penny, includes you”.

“It is always a sad reflection on us when one of our own turns out to be a murderer, a traitor, a torturer of innocents, a manipulator of men, a dust addict, a madman, and a danger to us all. I will be requesting a management review in the near future to discuss just how we managed to let ourselves be so utterly manipulated by a man who represents so much that is evil.”

“You’re the guy who summoned a creature that sucks the brains out of kids your own age, and can I just take this moment to say that while I’m not exactly grammar 101 guy myself, you suck.”

 

Dreamcast
Matthew Swift – Ben Whishaw
Penny Ngwenya – Naomie Harris
Kelly – Sophie Turner
Nabeela – Mona Zaki
Dr Seah – Laverne Cox
Richard Templeman – Stephen Fry
The Beggar King – Toby Stephens
Alan – Tom Felton

 

Recommendations
You would enjoy “Matthew Swift” if you liked:
“Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman” aka the whole reason I got into urban fantasy in the first place
“Peter Grant series” by Ben Aaronovitch
“The Dresden Files” by Jim Carey
“State of Play” – the TV series, not the movie – “TMC” made me remember how much I love it
“Sherlock, Doctor Who and Supernatural” – actually, “TMC” makes a cheeky reference to our favourite detective. I swear to The Beggar King, this series has NO FOURTH WALL.

 

That concludes my reviews of the “Matthew Swift” series. Go pick them up, guys – you won’t regret it.