Case Histories


Kate Atkinson


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

January 18, 2008

ase Histories is real page turner, I finished reading it in just a few nights. Once I got started, I didn't read anything else (which is unusual - typically I read two or three books at a time.) Case Histories is an unconventional mystery novel. It's not a suspenseful plot or a intricate mystery that makes this book a compelling read, rather, the book keeps the readers attention because it presents a hosts of bizarre characters, mostly sad and/or dysfunctional, and yet sympathetic nonetheless. The characters are well drawn and interesting, we learn their their histories and quirky personalities. This book is really three stories in one, all tied together by the common thread of private inspector Jackson Brodie.

The first case is the story of Olivia Land, a young toddler-aged girl who disappeared 35 years ago. She has three older sisters: Amelia, Julia and Sylvia. Olivia was sleeping outside in a tent with Sylvia one summer evening, but in the morning she was missing, and was never found. Now, 30 years later, Amelia and Julia have returned home to clean up the household after their father's death (Sylvia has become a nun and locked herself away in a convent, completely shutting herself off from the outside world, so Sylvia does not attend the funeral.) Disturbingly, Amelia and Julia find Olivia's favorite stuffed toy in their father's desk - a toy that Olivia must have had in her possession the night she disappeared from the tent. The two women hire Jackson Brodie to investigate the cold case.

The second case is the story of Theo Wyre. Wyre was a successful attorney with two wonderful, college-aged daughters. His favorite daughter was Laura, who had come to his law office to work as a summer job. On Laura's first day of work a complete stranger wearing a bright yellow golfing shirt strides into the law office - he slaughters Laura with a ruthless knife attack, and then storms back out of the office before any of the stunned workers can react. 10 years have passed, and the police have no clues, no suspects, no motives on a seemingly random act of horrific violence. Theo has been gaining weight and grieving for Laura all these year, finally, he decides the police are getting no where, so he hires Jackson Brodie to investigate.

The third story is about Michelle, a young bride with an infant daughter, who likes to have things "just so". Unfortunately, her new husband is not sensitive to her moods, and when he disturbs Michelle's tranquilty he falls victim to fatal axe blow to his head. Now Michelle's sister, Shirley, wants to find that infant daughter, who has been missing for almost 20 years now. Shirley hires Jackson Brodie to find her missing niece.

Each of these story lines is really a chance for Kate Atkinson to give us some vivid character descriptions, solving the mysteries isn't the most important thread of this book, instead, it is enjoying the characters. Atkinson also gives us plenty of details about Jackson Brodie's personal life - he is in a constant battle with his ex-wife on how to raise their daughter. I wouldn't say that any of these characters are especially likable other than Brodie, but they seem genuine, and they seem quite human - it is their personalities that make for interesting reading.

This book is not a traditional mystery, although Brodie does eventually figure out all three cases - which coincidentally are not completely unrelated to each other. It is a good book, I will try to read some of Atkinson's other work.