Review: Case Histories

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 🙂

Other thoughts:

Teresa at Shelf Love

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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24 thoughts on “Review: Case Histories

  1. I read this a few years back and wasn’t really a fan. I personally found the story too slow moving for my tastes and really wanted more action. Since then I’ve probably gotten into other “literary crime” novels and enjoyed them, but I’ve never thought to revisit Atkinson’s series again. On the other hand, I do tend to enjoy her non-crime fiction, so I guess I can get my fix that way!

    1. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more now that you’ve gotten used to literary crime. I actually tried but did not enjoy a non-crime book by her, so I was happy to discover this series. Hope you’ll give it another try 🙂

    1. Since I think it was a non-crime book by her which I couldn’t get into, I’s recommend trying this one. And it’s the first in a series, so if you enjoy it there’s more to look forward to 🙂

  2. This seems to be a great read. I remember all the praise when it was released and I’ve borrowed it twice but always returned it without getting around to reading it. Better get cracking on it. It sounds like something I’d really like.

  3. You’re definitely extending my horizons everytime I come back I learn something new for the reading radar. Great review and nice to see you back with a vengeance.

  4. Lovely review, Bina! I like the fact that the book is more about dealing with tragedy rather than about solving crimes – though I like the ‘solving crimes’ part of a book too. ‘Literary Crime’ looks like an interesting coining of a phrase. I will look for this book when I go to the library / bookstore next. My favourite bookstore is having its annual sale now. I want to go and see what they have, and I am scared, because I know if I do, my bookshelf will be heavier (a pleasurable thing), my wallet will be lighter and my heart will be heavy with guilt (have a mountain-high ‘TBR’ list). I don’t know what to do!

    1. Thank you, Vishy! Literary crime really is quite an interesting phrase, sounds a bit pretentious, but I think if one enjoys mysteries and general fiction bot not modern crime, then this new “genre” is a great new find.

      Haha, that sale sounds dangerous! 😉 But if it’s an annual sale you just have to go, can’t miss an opportunity like that. Hope you find some great books! 🙂

      We probably all have these huge and embarrassing TBRs, but what if you’re suddenly snowed in, rained in etc, then it’ll come in handy 😀

      1. I saw the second volume of the ‘Case Histories’ series at the bookstore sale yesterday. But I didn’t get it. I will continue to look for the first volume of the series, ‘Case Histories’.

        Yes, the sale is extremely dangerous 🙂 But I couldn’t resist going there yesterday. I also convinced myself that it might snow or rain and I might get grounded and a mountain-high ‘TBR’ is good, like you have said 🙂 The books on display at the sale weren’t as wonderful as last year – so one part of me was happy and another part of me was disappointed. I got a few gems though – one was on mathematics called ‘The Poincare Conjecture’, which was one of the great unsolved problems in mathematics until recently. Another was an anthology of modern Iranian literature – I am really looking forward to reading it. Another was Steve Martin’s ‘Shop Girl’ (have you read it?) Another was ‘Tom Jones’ by Henry Fielding. I will post about the new books soon 🙂

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