First, while it’s clear the two are writing in the crime/mystery genre, they are simultaneously subverting and reifying it. French has famously done this in her entire career. She refused to center her series f crime/mystery novels around a central character, instead using assorted characters from the Dublin Murder Squad as her protagonists, and that's just the most obvious way her mystery novels are not like others. Atkinson also does this in Case Histories in a way that even though you know you’re reading a mystery novel (it starts off with 3 vignettes depicting horrible crimes) the language is so pellucid while the pacing is so languid you’re constantly questioning—wait, what’s the mystery to be solved here?
Atkinson is so skilled a writer she is able to deploy humor effectively in what is, at its heart, a police procedural featuring her private investigator Jackson Brodie. This is something I think only Stuart MacBride has been able to do consistently well in his Aberdonian crime novels featuring Logan McRae that can sometimes veer into farce or outright hilarity. Atkinson's humor is much more sly and subtle but just as enjoyable (and welcome).
The centrality of Atkinson's work in Case Histories is character and the human experience. Jackson Brodie is such an interesting main character! But Atkinson gives us insightful looks into the internal worlds of many, many characters in the book, some who are criminals and some who are victims. And often it’s not clear who is suffering more. The overall theme seems to be, "life is suffering" and here’s another slice of life.
I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing what happens next with Brodie (and his precocious daughter Marlee!!) and I’m slightly curious about what Atkinson’s non-genre books are like, since they all seem to be popular.
Title: Case Histories (Jackson Brodie, #1).
Author: Kate Atkinson.
Paperback: 434 pages.
Publisher: Little, Brown.
Date Published: October 15 2007.
Date Read: October 3, 2020.
OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).