One Good Turn is the second book in the Jackson Brodie series, the first being Case Histories which I reviewed here.
In the follow-up, we find Jackson Brodie in Edinburgh at the festival, which he is attending for the sake of his actress girlfriend Julia (remember her from Case Histories?). While Julia is acting in the worst kind of fringe theatre, Jackson somewhat aimlessly explores the town. He ponders Julia’s emotional distance, and the curse of being well-off but being without a purpose. But things happen and soon Jackson is witness to a car accident with a violent thug and finds the body of a young woman which then promptly disappears again. There’s also meek Martin Canning, writer of light old-fashioned mysteries, who loses his wallet and novel and is falsely identified as a murder victim; and Gloria Hatter, hopefully soon-to-be widow of a property developer (of crappy houses); and a mysterious company called Favours; a crazy Russian girl; and Louise Monroe, a police officer, trying to make sense of the confusing going-ons and her errant son Archie.
As in Case Histories, Atkinson creates a pastiche of these seemingly unrelated stories, hopping from perspective to perspective with each chapter. But don’t worry, every character has a strong voice and is memorable enough to make it no problem at all to reconnect with them. The great thing with this style is that with every chapter, a piece of the puzzle fell into place, which is probably why I raced through this book, Atkinson’s plotting is only surpassed by her writing. Her writing is an absolute joy; it’s lively but descriptive and despite her demonstrations of the meanness and misery of the human condition, her sarcastic commentary made me laugh out loud every other page.
Where Case Histories was heart-wrenching in its depiction of grief and loss, and felt more melancholy in tone, One Good Turn is more of a fun romp. Or it will be for you, if you can appreciate the author’s caustic humour. The main characters are scarily real but when they interact, the housewife and the crazy Russian girl, there are lots of moments for more light fun. I quite admire how Atkinson can expose human behaviour so completely but still balance this with a fun puzzle and moments of slapstick like attitude. Fun moments also come from Martin being a crime writer and Atkinson poking fun at writers, publishers and the whole gang.
I love Atkinson for bringing her considerable writing talent to the supposedly unworthy genre of crime fiction, for using a German word and spelling it correctly, for characters who apologize for using split infinitives, for exploring the concept of masculinity in Jackson and especially Martin, and for making all of this into one amazing read!
On the road rage:
“Even Martin had wondered at first if it was another show- a faux-imprompto piece intended either to shock or to reveal our immunity to being shocked because we lived in a global media community where we had become passive voyeurs of violence (and so on).”
“What must it have felt like to have pinned your colours to the standard of a just war, to have experienced so many noble feelings (yes, a lot of propaganda, but the kernel of it was true), to have been released from the burden of individualism?”
“Gloria often had the impression that her life was a series of rooms she walked into that everyone else had just left.”
“Gloria felt suspicious of people who had no time for sugar, it was a personality flaw, like preferring weak tea. Tea and sugar were a test of character.”
“Sometimes Gloria wondered where she had been when feminism occurred in the kitchen making interesting packed lunches, presumably.”
“Martin couldn’t imagine a world where there was no time to read.”
“Tarvit slumped in his chair as if languor and bad posture were a mark of masculinity”.
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!