Review: One Good Turn

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!

Favorite passages:

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”.


Other thoughts:

Shelf Love

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

11 thoughts on “Review: One Good Turn

  1. Wonderful review, Bina! It is a joy to read your reviews! I loved your comment – “Atkinson’s plotting is only surpassed by her writing”! I also loved your comment – “I love Atkinson…for using a German word and spelling it correctly, for characters who apologize for using split infinitives” 🙂 I liked very much this line that you have quoted – “Martin couldn’t imagine a world where there was no time to read.” 🙂 I also loved all the quotes about Gloria!

    1. Thanks so much, Vishy! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 There’s lots of great passages in this book, I had to choose the ones that weren’t spoilery and made sense out of context, so what I’m saying is this book is even better than comes across here 🙂

  2. One of these days I’ll go back and read this in print. I enjoyed it (I’m a complete Atkinson fangirl at this point), but the audio narrator really didn’t seem to get Atkinson. Her other books have made me laugh and laugh, but this one, not so much. And I think that’s all due to the audio reader not seeing the jokes. Sigh.

    1. I loved both Brodie books, but a few years ago tried reading a novel by her and couldn’t get into it. But I’m pretty sure it’ll be different if I try again now 🙂
      Her sense of humour is wonderful, too bad the audio reader didn’t get it, it’s fantastic in print.

  3. My favorite quote – “Martin couldn’t imagine a world where there was no time to read.” SO true! People ask me where do I have the time to read in between working and travelling and gymming or whatever… And I reply that for me I simply can’t imagine NOT reading at any point in time!

    1. Oh I know, people tell me all the time that they don’t have the time to read, like they’re saving lives or something instead. If they’d love to read, they’d make time 🙂

  4. I have never associate Kate Atkinson with fun and caustic humour. Now that you said it, I must really put her books on my must-read.. (maybe start a year reading only crime fiction and nothing else! lol 😀 ) Thanks for sharing your thoughts, all excellent things said about Atkinson!

  5. Until people told me so in comments, I actually did not know there were more Jackson Brodie books. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this! It sounds quite different from Case Histories, but great in its own way.

    1. It’s really fantastic in it’s own right, and makes me curious what the thrid book will be like. Isn’t it great to find out that there are more books? 🙂

  6. Your review really makes me want to read “One Good Turn”, especially as you point out in it that that novel is more of a fun romp than “Case Histories”. I loved “Case Histories”, especially for the adorable charcter of Brodie´s daughter who made me laugh out loud a lot of times, but like you, I think that there is a bitter undertone in that book (the suicide attempt, certain things that happened in Julia’s family…).
    Now I am looking forward to reading “One Good Turn” because of its more light-hearted voice – and of course I am extremely curious about reading about the theatre festival!

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