Published by Back Bay Books
Publication date: October 17th 2005
What could the disappearance of a little girl in 1970, the violent death of a young woman in 1994, and the missing baby of a woman who brutally murdered her husband have in common? Nothing, except they’re all open cases that have made their way to the desk of Jackson Brodie, private investigator, in Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. Thirty-four years have passed since Olivia disappeared and now her older sisters, Julia and Amelia, have made a startling discovery and want Brodie to take up their sister’s case again. Theo is Laura’s father and has not been able to get over her death by an unknown man wielding a knife. He needs Brodie to find the mystery man. Sylvia is the sister of the murderous woman and wants to find her niece. Atkinson takes these shiny shards and crafts them into a mystery mosaic that is engrossing reading every step of the way.
It’s worth noting that in the midst of three new clients—all with cases that have been cold for at least a decade—Brodie has his own issues. Namely, dental difficulties that are keeping him trapped at the dentist’s office while he tries to adapt to spending time with his 8-year-old daughter now that her mother has left him. And an elderly client who is certain someone is stealing her cats for nefarious purposes. Atkinson gives every character in Case Histories the perfect dollop of personality—the kind that entertains without shifting focus from the plot. None of these characters are related, but Atkinson cleverly manipulates them so that their stories bump up against each in a tantalizing way that keeps the questions coming.
I already knew of Atkinson’s inventive mind, having read her marvelous WWII novel, Life After Life, but I was unaware of her previous novels. I discovered Case Histories thanks to a book podcast, The BookBully (which I highly recommend) and am happy to see that her ability to play with plot and timeline wasn’t a one-off. Case Histories has a strong sense of style in how fully her characters live on the page yet don’t hinder the multiple plots and storylines. This is one of the most difficult things to achieve—a perfect pairing of character and plot—and one of my criteria for what makes a book great. If you like your mysteries witty, full of subtlety, and carefully executed then this is one you need to read. It’s also nice to know that there’s another author out there with a strong backlist for me to go to when I need writing I can trust.