This is Kate Atkinson’s third Jackson Brodie novel and, like the previous two, it is a crime novel only in that crimes are committed and are integral to the plot.
In an emotional and beautifully written opening chapter six-year-old Joanna witnesses the brutal killing of her mother and siblings by a knife-wielding madman as they walk home through the countryside.
Thus the theme is set – how people’s lives can be marked are they by their sudden tragedies, so that they may never really escape their pasts, and spend the rest of their lives wondering – “when will there be good news?”
The story then moves forward thirty years and five separate plot lines evolve and interweave:
- Joanna is a doctor living in Edinburgh, the happily married mother of a one-year-old child and a woman who appears to have it all.
- Reggie Chase is Joanna’s mother’s help .Her own mother died traumatically a year ago and now she fends for herself in tenement flat that she shares with her delinquent brother. Reggie loves her job and idolizes Joanna. Joanna though has no idea how Reggie lives.
- Jackson Brodie is newly married for the third time. While working on a case in England, he takes the wrong train and ends up in Edinburgh, where he is injured in a train crash near the house where babysitter Reggie Chase is staying.
- Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, a former girlfriend of Jackson Brodie, has come to Edinburgh to warn Joanna that the killer of her family has been released.
- Joanna’s husband Neil Hunter is in has business problems and may be dealing with some dangerous people. When he tells Reggie that his wife has gone suddenly to visit a sick aunt she doesn’t believe him and fears that Joanna and her child are missing and probably dead.
Co-incidence and fate are key to the cleverly developed plot. Decisions have repercussions. A train crash, identity theft and kidnapping connect the characters, knitting the different strands together and building to a striking conclusion.
Kate Atkinson’s prose is as lovely as ever and she is wonderful at fleshing out her characters’ past and present lives to people you feel you might know. Reggie in particular is a wonderful creation.
A few flaws though – maybe a few too many coincidences and maybe one too many plot lines to keep track of – make this a really good book rather than a great one.
There seem to be some loose ends in the Jackson Brodie story so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him feature in at least one more book. And I hope he does, but at the same time I do feel that Kate Atkinson will produce her best work when she starts with a blank canvas.