Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Turn for the Worse

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson's follow-up to Case Histories picks up about a year after that novel left off. Jackson Brodie has retired from the private eye business, bought his dream house in France, and has taken up with the flighty, chain-smoking actress, Julia, whose missing persons case he solved in Case Histories.

One Good Turn begins with a seemingly random episode of road rage, wherein a man is nearly beaten to death after a fender bender on a crowded Edinburgh street. An unassuming and hopelessly dweeby mystery writer named Martin steps in as a Good Samaritan, throwing his briefcase at the assailant. This sets into motion a series of events involving a corrupt real estate mogul, a shady "cleaning service," a hitman set on tying up loose ends, and the antics of a ballsy Russian call girl who goes by the name of Jo Jo.

My love for Case Histories is steadfast and well-documented on this blog, and I've been looking forward to reading One Good Turn for months. Perhaps a less excitable reader will find more to like about it than I did.

While the plot is satisfyingly twisty, it's not enough to make up for the book's many flaws. The uneasy relationship between Julia and Jackson seems to have been manufactured simply for the purpose of giving the latter a reason to be in Edinburgh in the first place (watching Julia perform in a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Worse, however, are the unsympathetic and grating supporting characters whose stories eclipse Jackson's -- we are subjected to long interior monologues and back stories from each of them.

Atkinson revisits some of her favorite themes -- ambivalence towards motherhood, the damage inflicted by family secrets, and how sometimes it is too late to have a happy childhood -- and she does this well, and darkly. However, after Case Histories, a novel that gracefully bridged the gap between the crime novel and literary fiction, One Good Turn is a disappointing sequel.

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