“ Author: Kate Atkinson / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 09 June 2011 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd / Title: One Good Turn / ISBN 13: 9780552777872 / ISBN 10: 0552777872 / Alternative EAN: 9780552772440 „
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I have seen Kate Atkinson's book described as, a thriller, a story with a "rattling pace", written with "deft and funny prose", a tale of "high suspense", but more about those quotes later.
The book has an intricate plot, a detective story with a twist set against a backdrop of the Edinburgh Festival.
A busy Edinburgh street is the arena for some of the main characters to witness a minor road accident and incident of road rage which is the foundation of the infolding story. This is the first of a chain of chapters introducing the players.
The characters are painstakingly drawn and I felt that I had a vivid mental picture of each one. A retired policeman, a writer, a suspicious individual driving the car, the wife of a wealthy property developer even the lead character in the writer's books are among the many introduced to us.
Each character spends a considerable amount of time in introspective musings often triggered by the most mundane incidents and is one trait shared by all.
Having one character using every opportunity for a spot of navel gazing would have been for me mildly frustrating but for all of them to have the same, irritating, futile tendency was infuriating. Potentially tense moments were dispelled by the compunction of the author to have the character drift off into some irrelevant broodings of their dysfunctional relationships or reminiscing about their past.
This introspection is so much a feature of the book that I found it interfered with the flow of the story and slowed the pace so much so that I wonder if the authors of those earlier quotes had read the same book as me. There was no way that I would describe this book as fast paced, highly suspenseful or funny, but it is extremely well put together, but just not in a style that I enjoy.
The plot was imaginatively constructed if a little convoluted (as perhaps good mysteries should be) and the obligatory twist at the end if not a complete surprise, was skilfully woven.
I may be a little harsh here but there was a scene in the book when the members of a fringe theatre group walked into a square from all directions, they walked fast, criss-crossing each other and proceeded to speak rapid nonsense.
This sums up the book for me, a lot of threads crossing each other and an awful lot going on but not much of any relevance happening.
One Good Turn was chosen as the book of the month by my local book club. I knew of the Author, Kate Atkinson, from reading Behind The Scenes At The Museum many years ago. Behind the scenes was her first novel and it became the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year. I couldn't remember a lot about it but I know that it had been a little surreal but made for an entertaining read. I was therefore very surprised when I started reading One Good Turn as it was a completely different genre.
Amongst the hustle and bustle that is Edinburgh festival a road-rage incident occurs and is witnessed by many people waiting for a performance. Some dismissed it as an impromptu show but for others it was about to change the course of their lives. The events that unfold will uncover the worst of human nature; greed, corruption and exploitation.
The main protagonist is Jackson Brodie, an ex-policeman who has also worked as a private detective. He is in Edinburgh to watch the fringe performance of his actress girlfriend Julia, their relationship does not appear very stable and he starts to spend a lot of time dissecting every conversation they have. His appearance of being an upright citizen soon comes into question as he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and on more than one occasion.
Martin Canning is a quiet author who lives most of his life in a fantasy world. His uncharacteristic rush of adrenaline plunges him into a world he has barely encountered and past misdemeanours resurface to haunt him.
Gloria is the middle-aged wife of a property developer. He is very wealthy and she is aware that their house of cards will soon come tumbling down so she has started to make provisions for a future for herself. She appears calm and pleasant and amazingly tolerant of her unscrupulous husband's behaviour.
Other characters recur throughout the story. There is the exotic Tatiana who makes people think they are seeing a ghost, there is Richard Moat, a comedian who is past his prime but still thinks he is a star and then there is Terence Smith, brutal and aggressive and with a definite agenda.
As I said I was very surprised when I started reading this book as I hadn't realised that it would be crime fiction which is not really a favourite genre of mine although I do read it occasionally. I believe Jackson Brodie was introduced in another book, Case Histories, which I have not read and his story continues in When Will There Be Good News?. However this book stands alone perfectly well and there is no necessity to read the books in order.
The pivotal piece of the action happens within the first couple of pages so you are plunged into the fast moving story very quickly. Characters are introduced rapidly and I found it quite hard to follow who was who and had to refer back a couple of times until I started to place everyone. Setting the book in Edinburgh during the Festival meant that there was a lot happening and it gave cover to some of the activities that occurred.
The author lives in Edinburgh and although I don't know the area it sounded like it was being well described and I found it easy to picture the incidents. I thought the character portrayals were excellent. I could feel real empathy with some of them; especially Gloria who I think was wonderfully described both in terms of appearance and state of mind. I struggled most with Jackson Brodie but I think that was mainly to do with his name, it sounded so corny that it felt out of place somehow and seemed to irritate me throughout the book.
Each chapter of the novel concentrates on one characters activities and thoughts. This meant that you had to remember who was being dealt with and also had to remember their relationships with the events and with everyone else. I found that this made it hard for me to get very involved with the story at the start. I wanted to know what would happen but I felt that I was almost reading "padding" at times which just couldn't grip me. When I really like a book I will be sneaking off to read it at every opportunity, this just didn't happen with this book. I read it quite happily in the evenings but I wasn't desperate to find extra reading time! As I progressed further through the book I enjoyed reading it more as eventually the links between the characters were revealed and the reasons for some of the incidents became apparent. I still felt that some of the happenings were just too far fetched; I couldn't see how they could occur as the odds were not likely. This however is probably just a problem that I have when I read, I am not great with anything that doesn't ring true (except werewolves and vampires but that's another story).
The last couple of chapters really start to piece things together and then the last line of the whole book ties all the ends together in a brilliant and unpredictable way which certainly helps make this worth reading.
Case Histories won several awards and I am planning to read that soon as several people have told me it is excellent. I felt that with One Good Turn the author may have been trying too hard. Things like the repeated use of the matryoshka (Russian Dolls) seemed too obvious, as if the author was trying to show how clever she was by nestling the stories together with a Russian thread.
Overall this is an interesting book that certainly had me guessing until near the end. The way the author throws in unexpected stories about the characters makes it readable but I just felt it was not quite as good as it could be but I would still recommend it if you like crime fiction.
The second of Atkinson's murder mysteries, this novel includes some of the same characters but is set two years after the first. Fortunately, it doesn't rely upon the first but stands independently as a novel in its own right; relevant incidents are casually thrown into the narrative - 'He had once watched his own house explode.' That's fortunate for me, at least, as I haven't read 'Case Histories', which is the highly regarded predecessor of this novel. In fact, because events in the two novels are so disparate (according to my research, anyway,) I imagine you could quite comfortably read the first after reading the second - if you wanted to...
I like reading crime fiction. I'm stating this because there sometimes seems to be a certain nose-turning-up attitude towards crime fiction in some corners, and a tendency towards justifying or excusing it. Sometimes crime seems to be a subclass of the novel rather than a genre of it. In this instance, Atkinson's style is described as a 'good literary novel' on the front cover, almost as if she or her publishers are trying to distance her precious writing from the common taint of crime writing. In fact, the issue of the variable quality of literature is explored in the novel itself: Martin, one of the main characters, is depressingly aware of the trite, relaxing-Sunday-evening nature of his published works, which focus around a preppy, asexual sleuth called Nina. His publisher gleefully revels in the money bought in by the expanding series while Martin gloomily reflects on the poor writing he has inflicted on mankind. (In fact, Martin's persistent gloom is slightly irritating, since he appears to be earning a jolly good living from his books.) All of this is a lengthy way of saying that, while there is certainly a variable quality in all fields of fiction and non-fiction, I would actually tend to be more wary of a novel claiming to be 'literary' than a 'crime' novel. I mean, what does that even signify? It usually seems to mean 'lengthy, wordy and complex'. I'll come back to this point shortly.
So what is the story? It quickly shoots off in various directions, but the instigating incident is a moment of road rage which is halted by a quiet man's unthinking action. The villain of the piece then apparently tries to track down all the witnesses to this event, for no perceivable reason, while an ex Private Investigator worries about a disappearing body, a dissolving relationship and the difficulties inherent in being rich (ooh, it's a tough life). A police officer struggles to control her son and a rich woman watches stolidly as her life collapses around her - although she takes the news of her husband's heart attack while riding a prostitute very calmly. Russian girls multiply and disappear. Gradually, the links between the characters solidify and everything is tied up in the final few chapters, leaving room for one final twist at the end.
== My thoughts ==
So in what way is this 'jolly murder mystery' literary? Well, first it takes 70 pages to develop events which actually span a mere three minutes (the road rage incident). This is because each character's perspective of the events is described and deliberated upon in turn. Of course, their response does not take place in a vacuum, so there are also many pages of back-story and character history which is presumably intended to be of use later on. The scope of the novel is a wide one, then, in that it deals with a mere four days through the eyes of a wide range of characters. However, I would disagree with the blurb which enthusiastically lays claim to a 'Dickensian cast'; surely to be classified as Dickensian the novel should contain intriguing characters, not simply a fair number of them? Martin, the novelist, is dull, dull, dull. The villain of the piece is simply a thug, and barely portrayed as a realistic human being. He is simply a force for evil. The ex PI meanwhile is consistently heroic, if somewhat moody, although his girlfriend is a bit of a cow. All the characters lead unsatisfactory, stressful lives, apart from a happy hooker - who turns out to be something rather more. At least in Dickens' writing one finds a sense of hope; the characters here seem like they'd quite happily be euthanized. So, to return to my earlier definition, this 'literary' novel is lengthy, wordy, and complex in action if not in meaning.
The crime element takes a while to kick in, despite the opening road rage incident, and then the detective work takes a back seat to 'character development'. We learn how the rich wife was saddened by the death of some kittens when she was much younger, which neatly prepares us for the conclusion to her story. For me, the pace was somewhat too slow due to the necessity of all the background information. I'm sure I've said this before somewhere, but while I appreciate realistic, rounded characters, I don't want to know their entire life history or every waking thought. I expect to be able to understand and navigate the story without having to mentally sustain a whole set of five dimensional characters. Perhaps 'literary' really means 'make an effort'. Personally, I would have preferred a faster paced novel that focused more on the detective work.
There are some amusing moments, such as when the writer contemplates how his death might affect his sales on Amazon: 'it could go either way, he supposed.' On the whole, though, the mood is persistently gloomy. When it is suggested that his characters are 'a bit thin', Martin reflects that his whole life has been like that. There is little sense of satisfaction from relationships, work or even everyday feelings of wellbeing. To me, this felt a little sad and unrealistic. Surely somebody, other than the confident dominatrix, had to be enjoying at least part of their life? A moody central detective is conventional, but a whole set of grouchy and often irritating characters surely risks alienating the reader? I'm not sure that I ever really cared about any of them, despite following every move in their thought processes.
The one real strength for me was the twist at the end of the book. It fit neatly with everything that had gone before while still giving the reader that 'oh!' sensation as you happily slot the last few puzzling pieces into place. However, for me, this wouldn't be enough of a redeeming feature to recommend reading the entire book.
== Conclusion ==
The chapters are lengthy and wordy. The action appears to happen slowly due to the concentration on the character's thought processes. Conversations take pages to conclude, not because they're so detailed but because the actual speech is so spread out. If you enjoy getting to know a set of characters incredibly well and living the minutes of their life with them, then this may well be the book for you. Personally, I think I'll stick to Carl Hiaasen, who really does create quite jolly murder mysteries.
I was surprised when I first saw this novel as I had previously associated Kate Atkinson with literary fiction rather than detective novels. I had read the Orange prize winning 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', which I think is brilliant, but the next book of hers I tried; Emotionally Weird, I thought was dreadful and didn't get very far into it before giving up in disgust. This one looked completely different from either of those and the combination of a look at the first few pages, a glimpse at the cover quotes (I can be a bit of a sucker for those), and the fact that I was in a charity shop where it was priced at 80p, made my purchasing decision fairly easy.
The story begins from the point of view of a mystery man who is attacked in what seems like a road rage incident outside a venue at the Edinburgh Festival, (one of the things that drew me into buying this was a fondness for Edinburgh itself and the familiarity of the setting). There are several witnesses to this incident, some of whom we are introduced to in the succeeding chapters. These first few chapters although well written and entertaining enough didn't really draw me in. I think it can be a risk to use a lot of different character viewpoints as here, and I don't think it always works that well. Of course it can work very well, but in this case I felt it went too far the wrong way at first, as it wasn't until chapter six that we returned to a character we had already met, by which time I was finding the new viewpoints tiresome.
The first returnee was Martin, a timid writer, who had been uncharacteristically brave in the first chapter and come to the aid of the victim by flinging his bag at the attacker. I thought Martin was going to be the main character, but it turns out that Jackson Brodie, an ex-detective, is meant to be the hero. Brodie was a character in Atkinson's previous novel, Case Histories. I do like his name, it resonates cool, tough, brooding - I wonder if it was inspired by 'The Professionals'? :) There is roughly even space given to Martin, Jackson and Gloria - an ageing housewife to a corrupt businessman. Gloria was my favourite character - a seemingly staid stereotypical middle aged 'nice' woman, who gradually becomes more intriguing, funny and actually quite scary. Chapters are also written from the point of view of police officer Louise and her son Archie.
The story takes quite a relaxed pace to begin with, but maybe a bit too relaxed as it takes time to develop any feeling for the characters. I could have stopped reading this in the early stages and not been too bothered, but it obviously had enough about it to keep some sort of interest and thankfully the pace does start to pick up at around about chapter 11, (of 59), as does the body count. Things become more and more complex as we find out how different lives are intertwined. Sometimes I felt like it was a bit too predictable in it's unpredictability, if that makes sense. It's written with plenty of humour, much of it dark, and leads to a slightly farcical climactic scene before winding down and saying goodbye to each of the characters in their own style. We don't actually find out what our mystery man was up to, and why, until the very last line of the book which gives it quite a wry ending, although perhaps not entirely unexpected.
I think One Good Turn is a competent well written thriller with some very good characterisation and interesting twists and turns. I found it a touch self conscious - for example the references to Russian dolls that litter the book felt to me as though the author was saying, 'look I'm being clever, this book is laid out like a set of Russian dolls - so here are some Russian dolls, just in case you don't get it.' Occasionally the writing style made me think of the author rather than the story, but overall the characters were believable even if the plot got a bit carried away with itself at times. It was an enjoyable enough book, but not so much so that I'll be rushing out to buy her next one.
Incidentally, I wanted to give this three and a half stars as I feel a bit mean giving it just three, but in my opinion it's not quite good enough for four!
Details - Paperback: 544 pages, Publisher: Black Swan (16 Dec 2006)
Kate Atkinson writes good meaty books so when my sister gave me this to read I was really pleased.
One Good Turn did not disappoint although it was different to other Kate Atkinson books that I have read which were not all mystery books.
The book is set in Edinburgh at Festival time. I loved the fact that Atkinson used lots of little details to set the scene. She describes some of the many grotty venues where plays are put on and I really felt that I had been transported to the festival.
The story starts with a road rage incident involving a man with a baseball bat. A number of onlookers become involved and their stories are curiously intertwined.
Of course there is a good turn by one of these onlookers and I was surprised by the impact that it had on his life as the story unfolds.
We have a great mix of murder, investigation, family relationships, extra marital affairs and mystery. You are kept guessing what will happen next and I have to say that there is a great twist at the end.
Jackson Brodie: A recurring character in Atkinson's books. He is an ex army, ex police, ex private detective visiting Edinburgh for his actress girlfriend's play. He is a great character, almost wholly likeable but you do feel a level of sympathy for him.
Martin Canning: A writer of mystery novels who appears to be a sweet guy with not too much going for him. However there is more to him than meets the eye.
Detective Inspector Louise: An attractive female detective who clashes with Brodie throughout the mystery.
Gloria: The downtrodden wife of one of the richest (and most dodgy) business men in Edinburgh.
The ladies of Favours: Favours an agency that "will be whatever you want us to be!"
The story touches on issues relevant to modern day life such as prostitution, road rage, fraudulent business transactions and people trafficking.
It also features the fact that during the Edinburgh Festival almost anything could be a performance so you are not to rely on the public to intervene in anything!
I love a book which keeps you guessing and especially a murder mystery where you dont know from the initial incident "who dunnit". This kept me guessing throughout.
The book is written in the third person and in a wonderful conversational style. You feel as if Kate Atkinson is in the room with you telling you the story.
The chapters tend to jump about between characters which is fine as it is always made clear who is being spoken about.
The main one is that you will be right in the middle of one characters story and you want to know what happens next and you are taken back to another character's story. This meant that I had to keep reading this book late into the night.
Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book - it is easy to read and leaves you guessing.