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Not being a regular novel reader I found myself surprised to be drawn in to the cover of case histories on the book shelf. I immediately thought it would be a dark thriller from the eerie brown and mystical front cover. But upon starting to read it I found my self surprised by the contents.
Case histories is a slightly confusing book to get your head around at first with the ever changing story line. There are three stories all rolled into one and the book frequently flits between the three just as one is about to reach its climax. The book is filled with suspense, cliff hangers and tension however it also manages to add some humour and it certainly had me teary at times.
In 1970 Cambridge there lived a regular albeit troubled family. With four children and one on the way money was tight, being four girls however made great use for hand me downs. The children Sylvia, Amelia and Julia were all of similar age 12 being the oldest however the youngest, Olivia was only three years old. Their father was a mathematician and was several years older than their mother. He was a very withdrawn man who made no attempts to emotionally connect with his children. Their mother was to an extent a respected woman however she bore no love for her children. The only child that she shared any love for was young Olivia. Olivia, for her age was a very well behaved child unlike her three older siblings all of whom had a tendency for causing trouble. One hot evening Amelia was given the privilege of sleeping in the tent in the garden, naturally Olivia, the child in her mothers eyes that deserved every privilege imaginable was able to sleep with her. Upon waking in the morning however Amelia found herself alone in the tent. Franticly a search began for Olivia, with the help of the police and the neighbourhood hours were spent trawling the streets and undergrowth. Olivia was never to be seen again.
In the year 1979 Michelle was setting up home as a young house wife and mother to one, a baby girl named Tanya. Michelle was a troubled girl who did everything out of duty and not out of love. She was already becoming bored of the housewife idea and everyday she became less and less connected emotionally and physically to her husband Keith and daughter Tanya. She was trapped in the life that she no longer wanted for herself and the appreciation she received of her husband was far to none. She lived life in a depressive state drudging herself though each day with less and less awareness of what she was actually doing and what was going on around her. One afternoon after arriving home from work Keith and Michelle had a argument that ended in tragedy.
In 1994 there lived Theo. Theo was an obese man who by the disapproval of his daughter Laura was trying to loose a few pounds. Theo had no real troubles in his life, he was an ordinary father who did nothing wrong but love his daughter too much. It was this love that saw his daughter, his only reason to live, murdered in a freak accident? Or was it?
The introductory three chapters really draw you into the book, it allows you to get to know the characters and the plot lines. After this, the book moves forward to the present time and follows the story of a private detective, Jackson. Jackson, facing family problems of his own adds a touch of something different to the book, he is generally a nice guy but there are hints of something else in the way that he thinks about things. At different points in the book he is presented with the above three cases that failed to get solved all them years ago. With some of the cases, new evidence has come to light where others are reaching for there last hopes of closure. Being separate cases Jackson fails to see what is right before his eyes. Three different cases, in different time periods, but all of these people have a connection, a connection that can give them the answers they are looking for.
The story is captivating and rich in action, there is not a rest point where I thought ok this is getting a little bit boring now, it is just a truly amazing book. The characters are realistic as are the cases. There are some twists and unexpected endings. It is both happy and sad, I had a mix of emotions when I was reading it and I wasn't truly sure If I had happy or sad tears. It is a truly amazing book written by Kate Atkinson. At 425 pages it is not a relatively long book but it is enough to satisfy. Some of the plot lines are not for the faint hearted and contain some upsetting points but it is generally a nice book to read. I would hole heartedly recommend this book. It is both modern and old, funny and sad, captivating and upsetting but it is definitely one not to miss. The only downside to the book is the layout. It is very confusing whilst you are reading it and its not until the very end after you have mulled the book over when you start to realise things and bring the three stories together as one.
The book is currently available to buy from Amazon for a mere 75p. (May 2011)
Now, as with all Kate Atkinson's books, it will puzzle and confuse you by darting around between past and present, between different sets of people, whom will all magically, collide with each other at the end to complete the puzzle!
Kate Atkinson is an English author, who became known after publishing her first novel; Behind the Scenes at the Museum (which won her, her first award). She has since written seven more novels, this one being the first instalment of a series of four books featuring Jackson Brodie, the wonderfully attentive private investigator.
This is a superbly written novel, which within the first chapter captures your attention. By the end of the second chapter you're stunned by the dramatic events taking place so early in the novel, and by the end of chapter three, well I personally simply could not put the book down! The description used by Kate Atkinson, and her immaculate attention to detail draws you deeper into the story unfolding in front of your eyes, and will give you goosebumps.
A really quick summary of the story from the back of the book;
*Blurb* Investigating other people's tragedies and cock-ups and misfortunes was all he knew. He was used to being a voyeur, the outsider looking in, and nothing, but nothing, that anyone did surprised him any more. Yes despite everything he'd seen and done, inside Jackson there remained a belief - a small, battered and bruised belief - that his job was to help people be good rather than punish them for being bad.
Cambridge is sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet - Lost on the left, Found on the right - and the two never seem to balance.
Jackson has never felt at home in Cambridge, and has a failed marriage to prove it. Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected... *Blurb*
Now I don't normally like to just put the blurb in and be lazy, however I feel that giving away too much information about the storyline will spoil it tremendously for you. I picked this up from a charity shop for about £2 as my mum likes Kate Atkinson and I thought I would give her a try. It is a book that the less you know about it beforehand the better, as the cases will have more of an impact on you and grab your attention more. If you're expecting it, then where's the fun in that??
This is my first adult book review and I promise not to spoil the end for you.
I usually read chick lit books by Marian Keyes, Jane Green etc so this is extremely different for me. Friends brought me this and the two subsequent books by the author for Christmas as I requested something different for a change. I was getting bored with predictable romantic comedy plots
~Brief story without spoilers~
Set in Cambridge a private investigator called Jackson Brodie takes on 3 very different cases.
The first a little girl gone missing from her family garden during a sleepover in a tent with her older sister Amelia. Her pregnant mother, father and other sisters Sylvia and Julia were all in the house. When Amelia woke to find her younger sister not in the tent she knew something was wrong when there was no sign of Olivia and the back door to the family house was unusually locked. That was in 1920, several years later the sisters are grown up and Julia and Amelia were clearing out the family house when they found something...hence a call to Jackson Brodie to investigate
The second case centres around Theo a lawyer, a great worrier and over protective of his only daughter Laura. He managed to get her to change her job from working late in a bar to temping in the office of his work place. Then he called Jackson Brodie to help investigate an unsolved case relating to Laura....
Case number 3, back in 1979 Michelle is struggling to cope with a new born baby , when her husband arrives home something unthinkable happens. Again several years later Jackson Brodie is called in by Michelle's sister to unravel a mystery.
Cases twinned with drama in Jackson own family life being a short case number 4.
The story is quite dark, if you want an uplifting happy book this isn't for you, I had to be in the right mood to read this book. The characters I struggled to like or understand the choices they were making but were very well written, you really had a sense of knowing their whole life (especially nearing the final chapters).
Billed as a family drama/thriller/suspense, although I found myself wondering what the end would bring I was never at the edge of my seat unable to put the book down until I knew everything. It plodded along nicely unfolding at a suitable rate. I hope it doesn't spoil it to say I wasn't fully shocked and had partly predicted certain points but not all. An easy read that I finished quite quickly and once finished I was looking forward to reading her other two books I received.
I am nearly at the end of the second book called 'One good turn' following Jackson Brodie again and will hopefully review it shortly but I will say am enjoying it more than this first book.
Amazon are selling this book for £5.00 and WhSmith for £5.59 at the moment 15.5.10
For me, Kate Atkinson is one of those authors who can absolutely hit the mark, or whose works leave me cold and wondering what all the fuss is about. 'Case Histories' is her fourth novel since the wonderful 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', and marks a return to the warm, cynical and quirky style that I love.
The book begins with three shocking crimes; a small girl disappears while sleeping in a tent in her back garden; a promising young student has her throat brutally slashed by a manic stranger; a stressed young mother is driven to sink an axe into her partner's head when her baby won't stop crying. All apparently unconnected crimes, set over a many decades, the stories start to intertwine when private detective Jackson Brodie starts to investigate. Seedy, sexy and cynical, Brodie is Atkinson's most inspired character yet; far from perfect, he staggers through life, divorce and a custody dispute with his natural empathy and ironic humour fascinating everybody who he meets.
He has three clients whose stories will lead him back to the crimes that were committed so many years ago - to the three case histories. Middle aged sisters, Julia and Amelia Land have hired Brodie to discover the truth behind the disappearance of their little sister Olivia, who disappeared 35 years ago; obese lawyer Theo Wyre wants Brodie to investigate the violent murder of his daughter Laura; and 25 years on, elegant doctor Shirley Morrison is trying to locate her sister, locked away for murdering the father of her child. As Brodie discovers clues and truths about these three cases, he also learns more and more about his clients; becoming their friends as well as their employee, and providing much more than mere detection. As he interviews more and more witnesses, he also builds up fascinating detail about the victims, and thus the reader becomes immersed in their lives and their tragedies. The strength of Brodie is that he is a good guy - he wants to help, he wants to heal, and his involvement goes much deeper than your average private eye.
I have rarely become so simultaneously involved with so many characters in one book. Kate Atkinson has an amazing ability to bring all of them to life through the small details of their existence, but never becomes boring or devotes too many pages to this. I found that I really cared about each and every one of them - and there are a huge number! Alongside the three main stories, the reader has to manage flashbacks, apparently unconnected narratives from complete strangers, random meetings - but at no time did I become confused or worried. I felt sure that all would eventually become clear ... and it did!
Atkinson also writes with real humour, albeit a very black humour - I loved the cynicism of some of the characters, while at the same time sharing their despair and sadness. The plot is incredibly convoluted, but the reader just has to relax and go with the flow as the stories wind in and out of each other. All in all I found this a pretty impressive read - a crime novel which keeps you guessing until the end, amazing characterisation and social observation, all with the kind of twisting, non-linear plotline that I find absolutely irresistible.
Case Histories was published by Black Swan in 2005
ISBN 0552772437, 399 pages.
One summer evening, 3 year old Olivia Land sleeps in a tent in her back garden with one of her sisters and the family dog. In the morning, Olivia has disappeared, never to be seen again. Some thirty five years later and Jackson Brodie, an ex-army ex-cop turned private investigator, is handed her favourite blue rabbit toy, found by one of the Land sisters who discovered it in her Father's locked desk draw after his death. The sisters want an answer, they want to know what happened to Olivia that dreadful summer's night.
Jackson Brodie may on face value seem like the standard type of man you might meet in these thriller type books. Sure he's been in the army, he's been a cop, he's now a private investigator who has gone through a divorce and has an 8 year old daughter, but the character of Jackson is an interesting one to read. You don't immediately become taken with the feeling of 'I've met this guy before...' as his character comes across as original, and you actually want to know more about his past, rather than slugging through uninteresting pages of it.
However the disappearance of Olivia Land isn't the only 'mystery' to keep you going with this book. Indeed there are a few other cases Jackson suddenly has to investigate; certainly more interesting than trying to the latest missing cat by that mad old lady. We are introduced straight away to these other cases and the characters involving them, and Kate Atkinson has done this without causing any confusion to the reader. Not once did I find themself turning back the pages to find who was who, but more that I was racing forward, wanting to know the answers behind these cases! One case involves the unsolved murder of Laura Wyre whose death has forever haunted her father, who almost feels responsible and has become obsessed with tracking down the killer, finally turning to Jackson for help.
Then we meet Michelle, a depressed Mother who suddenly takes an axe to her husband's head infront of their baby.
The fact that there was more than the main case to this book really kept me interested. At no point did I become confused by there being more than one case, and I was always surprised by what Jackson could uncover that no one had done before him on these cases. It's not your usual thriller crime sort of read, as you learn more of the back stories behind the characters involved in each case this book contains love, hate, depression, families, heartbreak and abuse and it's easy to become engrossed in each case.
The only characters I did slightly tire of was the Land sisters, however once the story of their childhood was revealed you could understand why they turned out to be the way they are. Sylvia Land is a nun who lives in a convent, Amelia is an old spinster who is easily embarrased by anything vaguely relating to sex, and Julia is a sex mad provocative woman constantly teasing Amelia for her shy behaviors. They are completely eccentric and strange characters, the type I seem to tire of easily and this was the only downside to the book for me as I really enjoyed reading about all of the other characters. I really felt for Laura Wyre's father who has never overcame the loss of his daughter, despite him being obsessed with finding out just who was behind it, he seems a stable and gentle man and I could sympathise with his feelings.
I think Atkinson did a good job of describing the thoughts of Michelle, she clearly needs psychiatric help and the way it is written out is wonderful, the description of her thoughts leading up to her killing her husband are written with such great care, however it isn't boring to read and certainly isn't overboard.
The book didn't all come together until the very end, and I really do mean the last few pages of the book! I was beginning to worry you wouldn't get all the answers from this book, but it's with a sigh of relief everything fits together perfectly and surprisingly doesn't seem too rushed as Jackson nicely ends all of the cases.
I read One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson quite some time before I read this book which actually uses the same character Jackson, however I feel reading them in the wrong order didn't affective anything at all. The only problem being that One Good Turn WAS confusing where Case Histories isn't, and so I came into this book with not very high expectation but was pleasantly surprised by how good a read it was. It's certainly a book I recommend to anyone who likes a good mystery, it's not too hardcore crime/thriller style of book, but even so it makes for an addictive read.
One hot summer night 3 year old Olivia Land mysteriously disappears from a tent in the garden where she was camping with her sister, never to be seen again. Thirty-five years later, her sisters discover her favourite toy, blue rabbit, locked in their father's study desk after his death forces them to have a clean out. Wondering if their father knew more about their sister's disappearance than he was letting on, the sisters hire a private detective, Jackson Brodie, to investigate.
Jackson has a lot on his plate - recently divorced, he has a strained relationship with his ex-wife and is trying hard to maintain a close bond with his eight year old daughter, Marlee, while also hiding his own sad past. Private detective work doesn't offer either financial rewards or job satisfaction - his cases are mostly limited to investigating missing cats belonging to old ladies with only the odd unsolved murder case to provide a bit of interest.
Interwoven with the story of the Land sisters are a number of other cases Jackson is investigating: the unsolved murder of seventeen year old Laura Wyre, throat slashed seemingly randomly, leaving her single parent father heartbroken and obsessive about trying to track down her killer. The case of Michelle, a new mother, who twenty-five years ago sliced through her husband's head with an axe as if it were a pumpkin on Halloween.
I was initially dubious about how much I would enjoy this book - although I am a big Kate Atkinson fan and count her first novels, Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Human Croquet, as two of my favourite books, I am not a particularly big fan of the crime genre. However, Atkinson's style is what really drives the story forward and makes it so involving - her dysfunctional families, dark humour, and cutting turn of phrase meant that I found this an instantly absorbing book and I finished it in one sitting. It uses many of the same themes as her other novels - family secrets, childhood incidents - something I always find fascinating and probably why I enjoy Atkinson's books so much. Unlike many books which use multiple sub plots, I found all of the stories equally involving and I found the story of Theo Wyre, desperately trying to hold onto the memory of his daughter, hopelessly sad. As in all of Atkinson's stories, the female characters are well drawn, often eccentric, and nearly always flawed, but very real and believable. The Land sisters are predictably eccentric - when your child deliberately cuts her finger off in the middle of the kitchen, it's probably clear then that she's not going to grow up into the most stable adult - oldest sister Sylvia is a nun who refuses contact with the outside world, Amelia is a lonely spinster, and Julia is a flamboyant actress, all 'darling' this and 'cor lummy' that. The way in which Atkinson uses words is fantastic - the dark thoughts that flit through Michelle's mind before the murder of her husband show a macabre sense of humour in some of the metaphors used that is bizarrely amusing and it's clear that Atkinson is someone who loves language. However, it's not done in a flowery, overly descriptive way that can be so off-putting, but is very accessible and easy to read. Atkinson's writing is poignant, taking you from cracking a wry smile one minute, to inescapably sad the next.
The way in which the different strands of the story are all pulled together is beautifully done and I found the shifting in time, between different characters, also well executed and easy to follow. My slight criticism of the novel is that perhaps a little too much relies on coincidence for the plot really to be believable, but the story as a whole has quite an escapist, slightly surreal feel, so this didn't bother me, but for genuine fans of the crime genre this may make the book a bit disappointing. The only real criticism I have of the novel is that I never really felt that the character of Jackson Brodie himself was especially well fleshed out. Given that he is supposedly the main protagonist, he was the character that I felt was least alive on the page, and that I didn't quite understand him. My view is that Atkinson excels herself in the rather brutal way she writes her female characters, but isn't quite so convincing when it comes to men, although I did find her following books, 'One Good Turn' and 'When will there be Good News' did bring the character more to life for me.
I found this a captivating read and Atkinson's darkest novel yet. Although I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Behind the Scenes at the Museum (which does top my favourite book list so would be some feat!) I thought it was a wonderfully written and enjoyable book and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a love of literature.
"Case Histories" by Kate Atkinson was one of the novels on my book group selection list for 2009. I selected it as it sounded interesting but unfortunately not many others did, as it didn't make our reading list. Nonetheless I was intrigued by the story and wanted to read it anyway so was delighted when I came across it in a charity shop recently.
Jackson Brodie is ex-army and ex-police, and has set up a private investigation business. He is recently divorced and is still bitter towards his ex-wife and her new partner who are living together along with his eight-year-old daughter Marlee.
Jackson has found himself investigating three old cases. Amelia and Julia Land have hired him to find their three-year-old sister Olivia who went missing thirty five years ago while sleeping outside in a tent with Amelia. After their father's death they found Olivia's toy mouse in his study; she had it with her on the night she went missing. Theo Wyre has hired him to investigate his daughter Laura's death ten years ago. She was killed in her father's office but her killer - and a motive - has never been found. Finally, Shirley Morrison hires Jackson to find her niece Tanya, who was taken away when Shirley's sister Michelle was convicted of killing her husband twenty five years ago. At the same time he is being hassled by Binky Rain, an eccentric old South African woman who is convinced that someone is trying to kill her cats. All cases are seemingly unconnected but as Jackson delves deeper into each one he discovers many overlaps and coincidences as well as many secrets and missing pieces that were never divulged at the time. It then appears that someone wants Jackson dead. Who? And why?
The story is told in third person from various points of view, so that we get an overall feel for all the situations. The story opens with a chapter outlining the background of Olivia's case, followed by the background of what happened to Laura, followed by the fateful night that Michelle murdered her husband. All three chapters are completely unconnected to each other but the author has constructed them well and I found them easy to read without being jarring. She has an excellent knack for characterization, making even the most minor characters interesting and realistic which made me empathise with them all, even if I didn't particularly like them. Jackson has clearly had a troubled life, Theo is stuck in the past with Laura's ghost, Amelia blames herself for what happened to Olivia and Michelle has been driven close to madness with post-natal depression.
Suspense plays a huge part in this novel. Not only did I wonder what happened to Olivia, Laura and Tanya but also the dark secrets that the other characters seemed to be hiding. Jackson clearly has issues with his sister Niamh, Caroline has a past she is hiding from her husband and the Land sisters know a lot more about their family history than they let on. And who is the homeless yellow haired girl that keeps cropping up? All the characters seemed to have difficult, turbulent pasts that are slowly revealed as the mysteries uncover.
The story is dark in places, as would be expected but there is humour in the form of Binky Rain and the exchanges between the strait-laced Amelia Land and her far more outgoing sister Julia. This allowed for a nice balance and prevented the book becoming too filled with doom and gloom. It isn't a happy story by any means but the humour keeps it on an even keel.
All the loose ends are nicely tied up but the mysteries are not "solved" as such. Each character deals with the closure they receive in different ways, allowing them to move on with their lives and lay the past to rest. I found the conclusion to Laura's murder a bit of an anti-climax but was surprised to read the truth behind Michelle's husbands death and saddened to find out what had happened to Olivia, and why.
I am not a fan of crime books but this book does not read like a crime book. It is about coming to terms with the past and accepting who and what we are. It is written in a fresh and easy to read prose and had enough suspense to make putting it down difficult. It has an interesting plot with many twists and unexpected revelations. There are a lot of characters, all interesting and some downright bizarre, but all realistic. I think my book group made a big mistake not picking this one, and I'll tell them that! I would highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading more by the same author.
Private Investigator Jackson Brodie finds himself immersed in mysterious three cases which lead to him endangering his own life along the way.
The first case he encounters is that of the missing Land girl, who mysteriously went missing one summer night from a tent in the garden whilst her sister slept.
A despairing father contacts Jackson to find the killer of his 18 year old daughter. And in amongst this Jackson takes on the case of a woman looking for her neice, the child of her older sister who was convicted of murdering her husband.
Jackson struggles with his own past and present whilst working on these cases. Trying to forget his own history which haunts him and dealing with his ex wife who has moved on.
Atkinson hooks the reader from the first page, her skill in writing a fast paced book are evident as the story twists and turns before the cases are eventually concluded - but not necessarily solved. Cleverly Aktinson builds suspense and her skill to jump from character to character leads to an inevitable overlap of stories.
This is the story of Jackson Brodie(ex army, ex police, ex husband) who has now set up a private investigation business.
He sets out to solve three cases, that have remained unsolved in Cambridge's history. One is a little girl who went missing from a tent in her garden and was never seeen again. Another is to try and find the person who murdered an 18 year old girl in her father's office and finally one woman wants to find her niece, who was the child of her sister who was convicted of murdering her husband when she was 18.
Jackson trails through the murky past of his clients, usually with his daughter in tow....and of course when the mysteries are finally unravelled...it isn't what you were expecting !