Nov 18, 2011

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery is the second novel in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series (the first being Case Histories). Former investigator Brodie is in Edinburgh for the Festival, as his girlfriend Julia has a part in a play. Shortly after he arrives he witnesses a violent road rage incident – and so do a number of other characters which Atkinson then follows for the rest of the novel. The people involved include Martin Canning, a somewhat reclusive mystery author with secrets of his own (and who for some reason looks exactly like Watson from the recent BBC Sherlock series in my head); Gloria Hatter, wife of dubious construction millionaire Graham Hatter; Paul Bradley, a man on a secret mission and the victim of the incident; and Terrence Smith, his attacker. There’s also Detective Sergeant Louise Monroe, who becomes involved in the investigations and consequently in Jackson Brodie’s life.

The several plot strands in One Good Turn slowly come together to reveal a story to which there’s far more than initially meets the eye. Atkinson’s plotting here is far more intricate than in Case Histories, and although I preferred the first novel I appreciate just how many balls she managed to juggle without letting any of them drop (not too noticeably, at least). But as elaborate as the plot may be, at its heart One Good Turn is still very much a character-based novel – and more than anything else it was the characters that kept me reading compulsively.

Case Histories left me with the impression that Kate Atkinson was absolutely brilliant at characterisation, and One Good Turn only confirmed it. Over the course of the novel, we get to know each of the characters intimately, and as a result their humanity becomes undeniable regardless of their actions. There are no bogeymen in Atkinson’s novel; only people, even if some of them happen to be very unpleasant people. She’s all about shades of grey, and One Good Turn doesn’t go for the clear-cut division between the lawful and righteous and the wicked and lawless that can sometimes be found in mystery novels. Readers don’t know who’s guilty or innocent (or of what) until the very last page, even if they think they do.

In addition to being great at characterisation, Kate Atkinson is also very funny in a subdued sort of way. The subtitle “A Jolly Murder Mystery” is pretty accurate, as One Good Turn is full of instances of subtle sarcasm and dark humour that I absolutely loved. Another thing that made this novel extra fun for me was the Edinburgh Festival setting – having been there just this summer, the geography was very fresh in my head and I could picture all the places perfectly.

One Good Turn can probably be read as a stand-alone novel, as the plot will make perfect sense on its own, but readers will be more invested in some aspects of the story, namely Jackson and Julia’s relationship, if they start with Case Histories. Not to mention that as enjoyable as One Good Turn is, the first Jackson Brodie will give you a better idea of just how good Atkinson can be.

Has anyone watched the recent BBC adaptation of Atkinson’s series? What did you think?

What other readers had to say: Shelf Love, If You Can Read This, Mysteries in Paradise, Novel Insights, An Adventure in Reading, The 3Rs

(You?)

30 comments:

Debi said...

Oh my gosh...I absolutely cannot wait to read Case Histories!!! Not sure why, but I have a feeling (through your two reviews) that Atkinson could really become a favorite author of mine. Yep, I think I'm going down immediately to pull Case Histories off the shelf and put it in the "soon" pile. :)

chasingbawa said...

I really enjoyed the tv series although I hadn't pictured Jackson Brodie to be as good looking as Jason Isaacs! It's been many years since I read the first two books in the series so I can't say whether it was a faithful rendition although I remember enjoying them a lot. However, I have a copy of the fourth book so I'm looking forward to reading that!

Jo said...

This sounds like a good series! I've been reading more mysteries lately, so I think I'll add these to my TBR list -- thanks!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love her characterization! I think One Good Turn was actually the first Brodie I read, and it made perfectly good sense to me, but I agree it will be more fun for readers to start at the beginning, especially because the beginning of Julia is so interesting!

Zibilee said...

I have had Case Histories on my shelf for the longest time, and you have just convinced me that I need to pluck it out and get started with it. The only Atkinson I have has been A Night at the Museum, and that was many years ago, and was a very different kind of book. If you haven't read it yet, I do recommend it to you. I loved reading your thoughts on this one, and can totally get behind character who are a little morally and personally ambiguous. It sounds like these would be really excellent reads.

Zibilee said...

Oops! That should have been Behind the Scenes at the Museum! Night at the Museum is something entirely different!

reviewsbylola said...

I've only read one Jackson Brodie book and it felt a little farcical to me. Since then, I have not tried anything else from Atkinson but maybe someday.

Vishy said...

Wonderful review, Ana! I haven't read any of Kate Atkinson's books yet, but from your description she looks like a wonderful writer. I will look for 'Case Histories' and this one. Thanks for the review.

Bina said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too! After Case Histories I didn't think she could possibly produce anything as great, but this one is just as great and happily very different. It's so funny! :)
I have the newest in the series out from the library and should really read it soon!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

So excited to read Case Histories and then this one. I think I'll love them.

ds said...

I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson. Read Case Histories and the one that must follow this one, When Will There be Good News?. So will have to redouble my efforts to find this one. Thanks for the recommendation, nymeth.
And if you haven't read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, please do so ASAP ; )

Steph said...

I am sure I've asked you this before, but have you read any of Atkinson's non-mystery fiction? I have only read Case Histories in her Jackson Brodie oeuvre and I really did not enjoy it at all, BUT I love all of her non-mystery stuff SO MUCH. I think you would too, because she is quirky and intelligent and just all over awesome. I think it's a bit of a shame that it seems to be her mysteries that get all the press because really, her other fiction is where my heart is.

Tracy said...

I love Kate Atkinson's very, very dark sense of humour, my favourite books of hers are two non-Jackson Brodie ones, Emotionally Weird and Human Croquet.

They did a TV series of the first three Brodie ones recently, with the gorgeous Jason Isaacs as our hero, as Chasingbawa points out - and now I'm going to find it impossible to picture him looking like anyone else!

bermudaonion said...

I've read one of Atkinson's novels and enjoyed it and would really like to read more.

raidergirl3 said...

I read this series completely out of order. One Good Turn was first, and I really liked it, but like you mentioned, getting to know some of the characters in the first book would have increased the enjoyment.

Loved the TV series! I watched it on PBS Masterpiece and it was very well done. I didn't remember the plot points, but it all came back as I watched it. Can't wait until you read the next two books in the series. Reggie is one of my favorite characters ever, realized after I watched the episode.

Teresa said...

I don't really have anything intelligent to add other than that this is maybe my least favorite of the Atkinson novels I've read (and I've read everything except Human Croquet and Not the End of the World), but I still liked it a lot. Atkinson and I seem to have precisely the same sense of humor, and that's especially true in Emotionally Weird (which I'm pretty sure you'd love).

Mystica said...

New to me and am looking forward to it.

Kristi said...

Maybe I need to push these a little closer to the top of the pile. I acquired the first three of this series from a charity shop and now I can't wait to get to them.

I have read Behind the Scenes at the Museum and really liked it. It sounds like this series is just as good or better.

Juxtabook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juxtabook said...

I love the Brodie books. She is a wonderful writer and like Sophie Hannah combines literary writing with a cracking crime story. With her, as you put it, 'no bogeymen' style of characterisation she reminds me of Mrs Gaskell at her best. Another of my favourites.

Kailana said...

I am going to read this series at some point. I have the first book kicking around. :)

Trisha said...

Characterization is so very important to me, so it sounds like this would be an author for me!

heidenkind said...

I did see the BBC adaptation and I thought it was insanely boring and long. Good to know the books are better!

Ajoop. S said...

mystery novel with layers and characterisation? so going in my tbr list!

Jenny said...

Oh, Ana! How do you always make everything sound wonderful? I just read Case Histories, and although I liked it a lot, I didn't feel sure enough about the plot to necessarily seek out another Kate Atkinson book. But now I feel I must, if the plot is all twisty and complicated. I love twisty and complicated. I want to marry twisty and complicated. :p

Isn't Jason Isaacs in the BBC series? Am I remembering that rightly?

Nymeth said...

Debi: I so hope that turns out to be the case! Discovering a new favourite author is such a wonderful feeling :)

Sakura: I'm now ashamed of myself for not knowing what Jason Isaacs looks like :P And as with all adaptation, I guess it being enjoyable matters more in the end than being very faithful to the source material.

Jo: Atkinson is definitely one of the best contemporary mystery authors, I think!

Jill: Yes, very true! I'm sure I'd also have enjoyed the book if I'd read it first, but knowing Julia's backstory was a plus.

Zibilee: You know what's funny? I didn't even notice the mistake in your first comment :P I guess my brain fixed the title without me noticing :P Anyway, I haven't read it, but between you and all the other commenters it sounds like I must!

Lola: Judging by the comments, it seems that a lot of people who don't enjoy her mysteries to like her other fiction, so it might be worth a try!

Vishy: I hope you enjoy them! I would love to hear your thoughts, as always :)

Bina: The humour was just the best, wasn't it? Enjoy the lastest one!

Melissa: I hope you do!

ds: I will, I will! Can't resist after so many of you telling me to :P

Steph: I think you did tell me that when I read Case Histories, and shame on me for not listening sooner! They really sound like books I'd love.

Tracy: That always happens to me too - once I've seen a movie or TV adaptation I have a hard time not imagining the characters looking like whoever played them.

Nymeth said...

Kathy: Hope you like her others just as much!

raidergirl3: I really need to read the next in the series sooner rather than later, so I can watch the adaptation!

Teresa: I also really love her sense of humour. Adding Emotionally Weird to the list!

Mystica: I hope you like her stuff if you decide to give it a try :)

Kristi: It seems that a lot of readers actually prefer her non-mysteries, which I haven't tried yet. Curious to see which ones I'll like better!

Juxtabook: Hannah is an author I've been meaning to try for ages. One day!

Kailana: Enjoy!

Trisha: Yes, to me also :)

heidenkind: Sounds like the adaptation divides opinions! I wonder how I'll feel about it.

Ajoop. S: They're not that rare, I don't think. Dorothy Sayers is another good author to try for mysteries with excellent characterisation. I hope you enjoy Atkinson if you decide to pick her up :)

Jenny: According to Sakura and Tracy you're right, yes :P I hope you enjoy this one! It's complicated in a things-being-all-connected-in-elaborate-and-unlikely ways, rather than in a more traditional twisty way, but I thought it was really well done.

Kathleen said...

I'm so happy that I have Case Histories on my shelf at home. I picked it up from my library's used bookstore for $1!

Jodie said...

I talked about the tv version here: http://bookgazing.dreamwidth.org/3702.html but my response was really a reaction to attempting to qualify the fact that lots of tv critics were going 'Look how many female characters there are, such a female focused show'. Well, yes, but also...

You're almost convincing me to try the books though...

Nymeth said...

Kathleen: That's a great find!

Jodie: VERY interesting commentary about the BBC adaptation, particularly the bit about Jackson's thoughts re: his daughter dressing like a prostitute. I remember that part very well from Case Histories - it made me cringe, but cringe for the character rather than for the book as a whole. The thing with the book is, Atkinson uses multiple points of view, so the fact that Jackson is often a sexist asshole is challenged from within the text by all those other perspectives. Case Histories in particular was interesting to me because it analysed and challenged the idea of certain kinds of women being "perfect victims". Jackson's questionable ideas were part of that, but because of what she was doing with POV they were definitely not the whole story. Of course, a TV series can't quite achieve that in the same way a book does. I'm sure there were ways it *could* have been done, but it sounds like something was lost along the way.

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