Now that I finally have time for fun books again I thought I’d sort out the books I have here at my parents and put the ones I didn’t like up on bookmooch. It’s really weird that loving to read means reading anything to the extended family, but I hope someone will have more fun with these books than I had. Anyway, while I was sorting and dusting, I noticed Case Histories by Kate Atkinson on my shelf. I had no idea I owned this! I remember trying something by Atkinson at some point but I think I didn’t enjoy it that much. But then looking at my poor neglected copy, I remembered Simon of Savidge Reads mentioning how much he loves Atkinson’s series, and so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did!
Case Histories is the first book in a series around private detective (and former police officer) Jackson Brodie, and is set in Cambridge. But the novel starts with three case histories: Three year old Olivia disappears from the tent in her garden one night, 18 year old Lauren is attacked by an unknown man in a yellow golfing sweater, and young mother Michelle looses control and kills her husband. These cases all take place at different times and seem to be unconnected. The only link between them is that Brodie is asked to investigate them by Olivia’s sisters, Lauren’s father, and Michelle’s sister wanting to find her niece. Brodie is not a very happy man, he is divorced from his wife and is haunted by a personal tragedy, which is a fourth case history. His private eye business, too, is going slow, most of his cases are provided by old eccentric Binky Rain, who asks Jackson to find some of her many cats. When these three cases are dropped in his lap, he is not very optimistic about solving them, however, he is a nice guy and takes a real interest in those family members left behind. There are the Land sisters, Amelia and Julia, who find Blue Mouse, Olivia’s toy, the one she disappeard with. There’s Lauren’s fathers Theo, to whom she was and still is the world, and Michelle’s sister who wants to find her niece.
Of the three opening chapters, the case histories, I was most invested in Olivia Land’s. Atkinson introduces the reader to a dysfunctional family, the distant father, the exhausted mother, neither of whom appears to be very interested in the children. The sisters in turn are all slightly weird but all very much their own person, and it is interesting to find out what has become of them thirty years later. Atkinson suceeds in creating characters that are likable but odd, tragic but unintentionally funny. There are not too few characters but all of them come to life. Perhaps this is part of the reason why critics refer to Case Histories as literary crime. This book is one that can be enjoyed by crime- and non-crime readers alike. Although it has a detective and cases of missing persons, the focus is as much on the tragedy of losing someone close and dealing with how to move on from that, as it is on the mystery of the cases. You want to find out what happened, but that is not the central question of this book.
Case Histories is probably one of those books that has people gushing about how it transcends the genre and combines the best of genres etc. This is somewhat insulting to the ‘conventional’ genres, but I suppose I get their meaning. Even if literary crime sounds somewhat pretentious, I think I like it. I hope that means my reading horizons are expanding
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!