One Good Turn


Kate Atkinson


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 14, 2021

ooking back over my old book reviews, I saw that I had give Case Histories a pretty good write-up, yet I had not read any of the subsequent stories featuring Jackson Brodie. (I had read Atkinson's Life After Life, which I thought was phenominal, A God in the Ruins, which also was pretty good, and Transcription, which was a huge disappointment. Atkinson is a pretty good writer, so I got the second Jackson Brodie novel, One Good Turn, out of the library. I think its another entertaining story, I should look for the the third book, When Will There Be Good News? in the series; there are currently a total of five published.

One Good Turn is not written like a typical mystery, there isn't a focus on a single character trying to solve a crime, with tension building as the plot builds towards a climax. Indeed, Atkinson fill the pages with all kinds of tangents and side stories that make it seem as if she is deliberately trying to slow the pace of the narrative. For example, Jackson is in danger of drowning in the turbulent waters of the Forth, and yet he is thinking about his daughter and the Little Mermaid; he ruminates about the time he saw three other men drown but did not jump in to save them; he thinks about swimming in his pool in France. This is not a technique designed to heighten the intensity of the scene. Even worse, Atkinson keeps hopping between the many characters, every chapter is told from the point of view of one of the novel's individuals - the reader learns what each character is thinking, their history, their quirks and dislikes - there are many digressions. By the time the reader returns to Jackson and his drowning predictament, the intensity of the situation has long since dissipated.

There are plethora of characters that Atkinson presents. Jackson Brodie is an ex-detective. He was rewarded with a bunch of money, and so he retired and now lives in France. Brodie and his girlfriend Julia have to traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, because Julia is an actress, she is part of a group that will present a play "Looking for the Equator in Greenland" during an Art Festival. While Julia and the troupe are practicing, Brodie wanders Edinburgh. He happens to witness a road rage incident, in which one car bumps another in a minor fender bender, but the result is that "Honda Man" attempts to kill the "Peugeot Driver".

Martin Canning is a writer of mystery novels. His series of novels feature Nina Rivers, a plucky detective who solves crimes in the late 1940s. Canning doesn't think much of his creations, he longs to write "serious literature", but the Rivers novels have made him financially successful. Atkinson portrays Canning as a complete loser in personality and social skills, so it is a surprise when Canning prevents Honda Man from braining Peugeot Driver with a baseball bat; Canning smacks Honda Man in the head with his backpack.

Gloria Hatter, wife of wealthy home builder Graham Hatter, is called to the hospital because her husband has suffered a near fatal heart attack while fraternizing with a prostitute. It seems as if Graham's business dealings are as sordid as his personal life, and Gloria must come to terms with his criminality.

Louise Monroe is Edinburgh's newest Inspector. A single mother of 14 year old Archie, and lover of her aging cat, she has to deal with a crime wave that seems to erupt from the road rage incident.

Those four characters get the majority of the chapters, but there are also chapters for Archie (Louise's son), Paul Bradley (a self assured man in Edinburgh for an unspecified purpose, but most likely sinister), and Richard Mott, a failed comedian.

Atkinson loves improbable coincidences. The entire plot is based upon one unlikely event after another; the characters keep bumping into each other in the festival-crowded streets of Edinburgh. The unlikely coincidences are probably a joke of some kind by Atkinson, but there seemed to be quite a few major plot holes as well.

Warning: Plot Spoilers below!!,

How does Terence Smith know to find Jackson Brodie in the dark alley? How does he know Brodie's name? When Smith warns Brodie to "forget what he saw", it is presumably in regards to his finding the body of Lena, but how does Smith know Brodie found her body? Why was Lena killed anyway?

Martin finds the gun in Paul Bradley's trophy case, and then falls into a drugged sleep. How does the gun get from the hotel room and into Martin's car?

Haven't Julia and Jackson been in Edinburgh for only a few days? How could unfaithful Julia already be testing positive with a pregnancy test?

How is it that Tatiana, working as a cleaner and part-time call girl, knows all about banking, all about Graham Hatter's financial shenanigans? Who drives the car with tinted windows that gets Tatiana around?

Why is Terence Smith trying to kill Martin Canning - he doesn't even know what he looks like (Smith mistakes Richard Mott for Canning) , and certainly doesn't know his name?