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When Will There be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

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Author: Kate Atkinson / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 02 January 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd / Title: When Will There be Good News? / ISBN 13: 9780552772457 / ISBN 10: 0552772457

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      22.03.2011 11:52
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      Novel about human nature - enjoy the style, but don't expect to leave feeling satisfied

      I was lent this book by a work colleague, and it has been sitting on my shelf for about a year among the books I will read 'one day'. A shortage of books I haven't read led me to pick this up and give it a go - but to be honest I am not entirely glad I did.

      The book opens with a six year old girl witnessing a horrendous crime, then fast forwards to present day with the perpetrator of the crime being let out of jail. A doctor and her young son go missing at about the same time, and only her 'mother's help', a sixteen year old girl called Reggie, seems to notice or care.

      The style of the book is excellent, very easy to read. It is about 400 pages, and took me 3 or 4 days to read. It is unpretentious while also being very clever. There are a lot of references to art, music and other popular culture that are very well worded without being obtrusive - you won't get jolted out of the story by a badly-placed pun, but you will smile to yourself as Atkinson's excellent turn of phrase. The way she has worded the book made it an absolute joy to read.

      The characters are, for the most part, very well drawn. Hard bitten cop Louise is not your typical single-minded police officer. She is unsure in her marriage, insecure about her place in the world of relationships. Reggie, the mothers help who tries to get everyone to take Dr Hunter's disappearance seriously, is an odd but likeable terrier. Her mother recently died in a tragic accident, and she has kind of adopted Dr Hunter as a surrogate mother without being aware of it. When the doctor disappears, Reggie is cast adrift and is not really old enough to handle it all.

      Throw in a private investigator who gets on the wrong train and ends up in the middle of the mystery, the fact that we don't actually know whether any type of crime has been committed for most of the way through the book, a couple of thugs who are not connected to anything but muddy the waters, Dr Hunter's slightly shady husband... and there is a whole heap of things going on.

      Atkinson juggles it all brilliantly. Every storyline stays fresh and intriguing. This is a story about human nature and how people act in unusual circumstances.

      The only negative about the main body of the book is that I could not get the private life of the private detective straight in my head. Too many women's names were mentioned as wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, mothers of his children, without any real background or explanation and although it is not essential to the plot, I never really managed to get a handle on it.

      Up until I was about four fifths of the way through the book I thought it was fantastic and had started looking up other Kate Atkinson books on Amazon that I was going to buy. But then I got near the end. Considering how well put together the rest of the book is, I was very disappointed with the end section. Most (not all) of the loose ends are tied up, I grant, but they are done in a very perfunctory way. It felt to me as if Atkinson had either run out of time or had lost interest in the book, so just gave a brief overview of the bits we didn't know. Some of the explanations for what happened were very unsatisfactory and this part of the story was clumsy in places. I know that in real life we are often left with questions when something goes wrong - but this is not real life, this is a novel.

      Because of how unhappy I was with the end of the book, I would not recommend it to anyone to read. And I find that a real shame as I loved Atkinson's style and wit all the way through. If the ending had been better I would have given the book 5 stars. I will try another of her novels and see if that is any better - but if you like consistency all the way to the end of a book, and explanations of the events that have left you guessing, this is not for you.


      Also posted on Ciao, same user name.

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      27.11.2010 18:05
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      An absorbing crime thriller from Kate Atkinson.

      Over thirty years ago in the Devon countryside, a six year old girl witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man who was convicted of that crime is released from prison.

      Meanwhile, a long way further up north in Edinburgh, Reggie, a sixteen year old girl who has been forced to grow up quickly and thus is very wise for her years, works as a 'mother's help' for a local GP, Joanna Hunter. Reggie has became very close to Joanna and her baby son, so when it seems Joanna and her baby suddenly disappear without contacting her, she is rightly suspicious.
      However, it seems it is only Reggie who is actually worried about Joanna and the baby. Joanna's husband, Neil, certainly isn't concerned at all, telling Reggie that Joanna has had to go away suddenly to tend to a sick Aunt in North Yorkshire and has taken the baby with her. As far as Reggie is concerned however, some things are just not adding up...

      Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Lousie Monroe is also on the lookout for a missing person, unaware that circumstances are about to ensure she meets up again with former acquaintance, Jackson Brodie, as he finds himself on a journey he wasn't meant to be on. A journey that is about to be fatally interrupted.

      Taking an interest in crime/ thriller fiction as I do, Kate Atkinson is an author whose name has often cropped up and who seems to be held in high regard by readers of her books. I was not familiar with any of her work until I got my hands on a copy of 'When Will There Be Good News.'
      I was not actually aware that amongst her work, Kate Atkinson has written two other books, 'Case Histories' and 'One Good Turn' which also feature private investigator Jackson Brodie and that this book was the third in the 'series'. I use the term series loosely, as having read this book I can honestly say it is not essential that you read the other two books first. Indeed I found I was perfectly able to understand this book and enjoy it without needing to know what happened to Jackson Brodie in the previous two books.
      Anything important is recapped here anyway and as you read the book things become apparent. Most importantly, at no point did I feel I should have read the other books first.

      The story begins with a terrible tragic event thirty years previously, before moving forward to the present day just as the person who was convicted of that crime is about to be released.
      From the very first page I was quickly drawn to the author's brilliant characterisation and writing style, which grasped my interest immediately. Atkinson really gets into the characters and excels at their portrayal, using wry humour and a decent sense of realism in her writing. It has been a while since I read a book with character development as good as this and for that reason alone, this book was a joy to read.

      Atkinson really manages to bring the character of sixteen year old Reggie to life. A young girl who certainly hasn't had it easy. Her mother died in a tragic accident whilst abroad on holiday, her brother is always in trouble and an old woman whom she is close to is also killed in an accident, and yet still she has manages to retain her spirit and imagination. Despite ending up technically homeless, Reggie's pride and courage makes for both an interesting and entertaining character. Her active imagination is just one reason why when Reggie senses that something is seriously wrong, nobody is willing to take her fears seriously.

      There is a great mix of characters and personalities in this book. Joanna Hunter is a warm and loving but somewhat enigmatic woman. Experience has taught her to be grateful for what she has and she dotes on her baby son and forms a close bond with Reggie. Her husband is having business problems and it is not clear whether or not she is fully aware of these or not, as not much attention is given to relationship with her husband, which adds to the mystery of this story.

      Jackson Brodie is a very interesting character. Of course this book was my introduction to him, but it has left me keen to read the other books in which he features. Finding himself on the wrong train home, heading north instead of south has a much bigger impact on his life than he ever could have thought.

      Coincidences are something that feature maybe a little too often in this book and it lost a little of its realism for me because of this. There were also some interesting twists however, which made for an absorbing read, adding to the tension and mystery which builds slowly from the start and seems carefully controlled by the author throughout the book.
      One of the more believable coincidences is when Jackson's path crosses with Detective Inspector Louise Monroe's. It actually feels as if it is inevitable. There is a certain chemistry between the two based on their past and although their lives have clearly taken them in different directions, it struck me that neither are particularly happy in their personal lives with Jackson marrying the wrong woman and Louise marrying the wrong man.
      Louise was the only character I didn't really warm to in the book. She came across as selfish in her personal life and I felt sympathy for her husband. Also her refusal to believe Reggie's fears about Joanna, I found frustrating. Whilst I could understand at first, it seemed Louise was still refusing to take Reggie seriously when the fact that something was wrong was staring at her in the face! Whilst this must have been intentional by the author, I felt that this was another part of the book where the story lost a little of its realism.

      Kate Atkinson states that she played a little fast and loose with the geography of Wensleydale and and South-West Edinburgh and apologises for this. The only thing I noticed was how in part of the book she describes a journey from Edinburgh to Wensleydale and mentions turning left at Scotch Corner, which is incorrect. However a little further on in the story, someone else takes the exact same journey yet she mentions them turning right. I think I only noticed this as I am very familiar with Scotch Corner and wondered why she mentioned turning left to get to Hawes, when you would turn right. It is a mistake she then corrects on the second occasion.

      When Will There Be Good News? is a very interesting book to read, thanks to Kate Atkinson's engaging writing and excellent characterisation. I enjoyed the little twist at the end and although the story itself lost a little of its realism for me in places, it was nonetheless an enjoyable read that I would recommend to all fans of crime fiction.

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        30.04.2010 13:21
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        An absorbing read

        Kate Atkinson wrote her first novel in 1995 (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) and it won the Whitbread Award that year. Her first three novels were 'literary' but then she suddenly turned to crime writing. When Will There Be Good News is the third novel to feature the retired detective Jackson Brodie. I thought it would be interesting to read a crime fiction (usually trashy by their nature) by a good writer.

        The book starts with a six-year-old girl Joanna whose family are all murdered violently while she manages to escape. 30 years later the murderer is released from prison and we join Joanna's life and all the characters who are involved with her. Joanna is now married with a baby and a successful job. She employs 16 year old Regina- Reggie as a nanny whose own mother has recently died, and who studies with the dying Ms McDonald. Reggie witnesses a train crash where more people die (there is lots of death!) but she saves the life of Jackson Brodie. When Joanna disappears, Reggie persuades Jackson to help find her.

        The plot is full of twists and coincidences. However, this is not just a bad writer trying to hold the plot together. Kate Atkinson is trying to make a point about fate and the way our lives are intertwined. As Jackson says "A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen." As the story continues, the characters are revealed to have more and more in common with each other.

        Atkinson's writing is lovely. She does dialogue really well. When I was halfway through the book I still felt I was really getting to know the characters - I didn't need much plot. She uses dialogue as description. You get to know what the characters are like by the things they say - rather than descriptions of them. For example, Joanna's father is described as 'the Howard Mason, or sometimes, not smiling, that Howard Mason, which was different although Joanna wasn't sure how.' Phrases get repeated as the book goes on. The book is funny, charming, sort of playful. Right to the end, you don't quite understand the enigmatic Joanna. On the penultimate page, you realise that two of the main characters have a connection you hadn't realised. It's clever.

        Kate Atkinson seems to be saying that we are not in control of our own lives. We are bound up with other people and affected by what they do. We are all also on the path to death. God comes up quite a bit, but in a negative way. Atkinson is saying that in a world of suffering God is just absent. Ms McDonald is a 'born again Christian' because she has a brain tumour, but she doesn't really believe it. She has lots of mugs with funny Christian slogans on them. I think she is saying that when things are tough, you're going to have to fight for yourself and with your friends because no one else will help. This is a bit bleak!

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          21.11.2009 22:30
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          Overall an enjoyable read, but there are so many better books out there, I wouldn't recommend.

          This novel was chosen by a friend at book club recently, as she had heard Kate Atkinson speaking about it during the Hay-on-Wye festival.

          The book is something of an ensemble piece, where Kate Atkinson follows the lives of a group of disparate people, whose fates are intertwined through a few key events in the novel.

          The opening is written from the perspective of a child, and it is breathtakingly well written. Atkinson captures the tensions and arguments between two parents and the dramas of family life effortlessly. Then without warning the book is dramatically (devastatingly) catapulted forward to present day.

          The book's main theme seems to me to be loss - all the characters are making their way forward in their own troubled lives after facing some devastation. Joanna the doctor is investing in her own child, after a troubling past and within the book faces betrayal from her husband. Reggie, a young teenager, has lost her Mum and is dealing with a difficult and dangerous brother. Jackson Brodie's life, (the detective that Atkinson has written about in her two previous novels) has been marked by the tragic loss of his sister. Louise is a confident cop whose life is haunted by the loss of those she is supposed to be protecting.

          This novel has an incredible pace, and so much is happening on each page. I really enjoyed racing through it and found it easy to read. Atkinson relies on these incredibly intricate and multiple plot twists (hence I haven't outlined the plot here - no spoilers) to construct the story. Although I enjoyed the book, I found this to be a problem. It was so difficult to suspend belief when so may truly incredible (and really highly unlikely) things where happening all the time. I think that is quite a personal criticism, as some people might enjoy that sense of the spectacular.

          Perhaps because the plot was so thickly layered the characterisation was quite superficial. I didn't like Reggie very much and I only identified well with Louise (whoops probably says something bad about me!) Compared to the absolutely jaw-dropping start of the book, this lack of depth was a bit disappointing.

          Also I felt a bit sorry for the men reading this book, as lots of violent crime is happening, most of it perpetuated by men. None of them seem to be very 'good' in the book, except perhaps Jackson and the husband of Louise. I really like to read about strong women, and this was a powerful angle of the story, but I thought she might have gone a bit far!

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          15.09.2009 11:26
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          Doctor goes missing but it's not why we think!

          This book was a bit of a double-edged sword to me. Bits I really liked and bits I pretty much didn't. What I did enjoy was some of the characters and also the winding plot that came quite nicely together at the end. What I didn't like was the author's often rambling chick-lit style and overuse of ironic "speech marks" at the beginning which at times became extremely irritating. My brain was almost melting when more or less a whole chapter was wasted on Louise Monroe's life depending dilemma - shall I buy some flowers or not? (she didn't). I really wanted to grab the author by her lapels and shout "IT DOESN'T MATTER! PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE!". Thankfully it got a bit less "flowery" (oh dear, it's catching) and more concise as it approached the business end.

          It centres on Doctor Joanna Hunter, the only survivor of a murder that saw her mother and young siblings killed one day in Devon many years ago, an event that bore too many similarities to the real-life Josie Russell case for me. Her (on the surface) seemingly idyllic new life with a husband, career, baby son and nanny (Reggie Chase) was turned on it's head when DCI Louise Monroe turned up on her doorstep to inform her that the perpetrator, Andrew Decker, was being released after 30 years at Her Majesty's pleasure. The good doctor goes missing, her dodgy husband won't co-operate, a train crashes and the plucky nanny won't take no for an answer and is determined to solve the mystery.

          A string of coincidences move the story on nicely but a large cast can make it pretty confusing in parts, not helped in the least by another similar family murder years ago occupying DCI Monroe. Her previous boyfriend (Jackson Brodie, ex policeman and character in previous Kate Atkinson novels apparently) coincidentally turns up on the scene (half dead) via the unfortunate train and we are given all the details of his past and present loves even though they play no part in the story. DCI Monroe is a pretty dry, generally pessimistic character. I kept thinking Caroline Quentin. The not so good doctor is a closed book unsurprisingly, but Reggie the wee nanny stole it for me. Tiny but tough, with a dog in tow, she would do whatever it took to find the doctor and the baby with only a sharp tongue and quick wit in her armoury.

          As I said, I enjoyed the book in the end but the style of writing was a bit mixed to start with - witty chick-lit or crime fiction? Make up your mind please Ms Atkinson as for me the two don't really mix. The plethora of characters did have me back-tracking and a bit confused from time to time too. That said, it all tied up nicely at the finish and was quite an entertaining read. (7/10)

          (also posted on amazon)

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            11.09.2009 22:44

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            modern fiction at its best

            I am a massive fan of Kate Atkinson and having read the first 2 Jackson Brodie novels, I was expecting great things from this. I was not disappointed.

            Jackson is an ex-police officer who turned private investigator and is a hackneyed, cynical but strangely likeable scottish chap who does not always have the best luck in life. He finds himself entangled (often against his will) in other peoples crimes and is usually suspected of some involvement so working against the police as well as trying to prove himelf innocent at the same time as solve the crime. It was ever thus in crime fiction, but what makes this book (and its predecessors) so enjoyable is Kate Atkinson's writing style.

            The narrative is converstaional and accessible while never being flippant or shallow, and always with great humour.

            I think you could read this book without having read the other 2, but why would you when they are all so good? I really hope she writes another, as I think there is so much mileage left in the characters.

            And if you enjoy this book, please also have a look af 'behind the scenes at the museum' by this author - it is not a crime novel but written with the same witty, observational narrative style.

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            10.09.2009 19:56
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            Not a traditional crime novel, but one where coincidences are allowed

            Please read Case Histories and One Good Turn before reading When Will There Be Good News? The latter is the third in a series of crime novels from the great Kate Atkinson. Jackson Brodie is the character that the three novels centre around.

            The book begins with a man attacking a family that he does not know and killing several members of the family, only a little girl, Joanna, remains alive. The story continues three decades later with Jackson Brodie wondering about whether a little boy may be his son. The killer is released. One train crash, one disappearance (Joanna) and several coincidences later the whole story unfolds. Although Brodie does not believe in coincidences (like many of the great fictional detectives on TV!)

            The only thing I found difficult about reading this book were the number of characters introduced at the star of the novel. They kept disappearing and then reappearing in the story and because some of them are fairly similar I had to go back to find out who was who!It was difficult to keep track of them but after reading a quarter of the book they made more sense.

            Kate Atkinson always manages to link her characters lives and shows how interconnected everything can become. This is one of the greatest characteristics of her writing and something I enjoy. She brings characters to life and life into stories. And this is her talent. As a result I read this novel within 72 hours of starting it.

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              08.08.2009 21:48
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              Engrossing detective story well written

              A third outing for Kate Atkinson's ex policeman-turned private eye Jackson Brodie who continues to be both the unluckiest and luckiest character and immensely likeable. I have read the trilogy in order as recommended and I would pass on the same advice as even though I'm sure you would be able to follow the plot and enjoy the story I think its even more enjoyable catching up with the characters and following their stories as the books progress.

              This book opens with an account of a 30 year old murder of a mother and two of her children, her middle daughter then aged 6 having made a miraculous escape. The novel then zooms forward to the present day at the time of the release of the perpetrator.

              As with Atkinson's previous two books in the series - Case Histories and One Good Turn the chapters in turn take the point of view from a different character recapping events and moving the story forward.

              I'm a fan of crime books but often find they aren't that well written and the plots far fetched; this trilogy is far superior to most detective books on the market.

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              01.05.2009 14:36
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              Hard to put down once you start!

              I recently read "Case Histories" by Kate Atkinson and really enjoyed it so had hoped to read "One Good Turn" next, which follows on from "Case Histories". However I managed to get a copy of "When Will There Be Good News?" first, which follows on from "One Good Turn" so I've missed a step between the two. Ah well, never mind, I decided to read it anyway.

              This book features PI Jackson Brodie again, who is a well-rounded and interesting character. Atkinson always manages to write from his point of view with a great ease which shows that he is a character she is comfortable writing about. It was interesting to catch up with him again and see how his life has changed and progressed since the first book. This book starts with a murder, then moves 30 years into the present when the man who committed the murder is due to be released. Atkinson has a great knack for creating characters and even though some of the characters in the first chapter are only around for that one chapter, they have a lot of depth and I found I knew a lot about them as people from those few pages. She does a similar thing at the start of "Case Histories."

              The book is written from various points of view in third person. Not only is there the issue of the murderer being released, there are a LOT of other things happening aswell, all of which tie in together. Sixteen year old Reggie is a "mother's help" for an Edinburgh physician and her businessman husband. Reggie loves her job as it allows her to escape from her somewhat tragic home life that she keeps a secret from her beloved employer. However when her employer and baby son mysteriously disappear not long after a visit from the police, Reggie appears to be the only person who is concerned. But little does she know that her employer has a past almost as tragic as her own.

              At the same time, Jackson ends up on the wrong train which results in him landing in Edinburgh, but not without a major drama first. His friend, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, lives and works in Edinburgh and is becoming near obsessive with a case she is working on, while having to deal with her despised sister-in-law and husband who have decided to pay her a visit.

              Reggie manages to contact Louise and convinces her to help in the search for her employer. Louise knows more about the woman's past than Reggie and is worried that this past has come back to haunt her. A chance encounter between Reggie and Jackson means that Jackson becomes embroiled in the hunt aswell.

              This book has a LOT going on in it. It did feel a bit cluttered at times although I did manage to follow everything. I liked the changes in the points of view and I loved how Atkinson keeps the suspense going, making the book very hard to set down. There were a few unrealistic moments in the book, which meant a lot of the encounters appeared overly coincidental and a bit contrived. But as the story is so easy to lose yourself in, it doesn't jar too much.

              Atkinson is clearly a talented story teller but also has the great knack of creating sympathetic, likeable and realistic characters. I really wanted to know how things turned out for them. I wasn't overly convinced by all the bad things that seemed to happen to Reggie and Jackson. I feel Atkinson was maybe a tad hard on them! Plus even though Reggie is a strong person, could she really have coped so well with all the things that happened to her in the course of the book? I liked Louise and found that two sides of her character were aptly illustrated to show bother her tough ruthless side and her devoted caring side.

              This book has dark moments but they are dispersed by lighter moments. This is an excellent page turner that you will find hard to put down and I highly recommend it.

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