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Don't Be Afraid of the Dork

Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson

Format: E-book on my Kindle

Narrated By: NA

Original Publication Year: 2005

Genre(s): Mystery

Series: Jackson Brodie #1

Awards: None


I’ve been meaning to read Kate Atkinson for a while now. She’s one of those intriguing authors who are not tied to a particular genre, writing both literary novels and a series of mysteries. I’m a mystery lover so decided to pick up the first in her mystery series expecting a well-written but basically mundane straightforward mystery. It’s been dramatized on the BBC after all. What I got was indeed well written but also was a mystery unique in its approach and structure.


Jackson Brodie is the detective and I pretty much immediately fell in love with him. He’s a former police inspector who now runs his own private investigation business and in many ways he is the stereotypical modern literary detective – his personal life is a mess and he takes horrible care of himself. He’s from a working class background but very clever and compassionate. He loves his 8 year old daughter, loves sad women country singers (ex. Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood), can’t get over his ex-wife’s betrayal, has horrible dentistry problems. He keeps getting accused of turning into a woman to which he finally replies “There are worse things.” Indeed. He’s an awesome character, the way he relates to his life and the people in it, and the fact that he gets beaten all to hell throughout the book made him incredibly endearing.


The interesting thing is that the reader gets to know him well even though he really only appears in about 50% of the book. It is not centered on him. As the title suggests, the book focuses on three cases, mostly long cold, that people bring to Jackson’s agency. A lot of the book is spent in the perspective of the people most affected by these cases. Amelia Land, Theo Wyre, and Caroline. Amelia’s sister disappeared without a trace from a shared tent in the back yard when they were small. Thirty years later new evidence surfaces. Theo’s daughter was stabbed to death a decade earlier in plain sight but her killer was never apprehended. Caroline herself is a mystery.


The book jumps around in time quite liberally and manages to seem somewhat rambling and immaculately planned at the same time. The jumping around in time can sometimes be jarring but it also for me was the perfect way of maintaining suspense and a unique way of unfolding each of the stories. And there is a true unfolding with not just new things about the case revealed, but also about the narrators and their reliability. It was addictive reading for me and had me avoiding chores because I couldn’t stop turning pages.


The other things that struck me as unique and perhaps I’m just not remembering other mysteries I’ve read well, but I was so engrossed in these people and these lives that the crimes against them, even as far in the past as some of them were, were terribly affecting. I found myself in tears more than once which I’m not sure I can say about too many other mysteries. Jackson’s own story of his childhood when finally told was short but incredibly heart breaking and poignant.


Because the other thing that Atkinson does is start us off showing us the very heart of darkness in families. Parents who abuse, who neglect, who prefer one of their children over the other. By the end, however she has started to reveal the kernel of beauty in family (not just biological but those we choose as well) - the love that exists and that can be a healer.


As you can see I truly loved this book and am so glad I have brought Kate Atkinson into my life. I will definitely be seeking out her other books and savoring them.