Case Histories

case historiesThe Short Version: Jackson Brodie, former-cop-now-private-investigator, ends up taking on three ‘cold’ cases that all somehow find themselves intertwining in and around Cambridge.  Meanwhile, he’s trying to stay a good father despite his ex-wife’s best efforts and someone may be trying to kill him.

The Rating: Something wonderful about coming home and reading a book in a day.  Especially a decent sized one, like this.  This was a recommendation from the always-reliable Biblioracle over at The Morning News and, interestingly enough, a book I already had – had gotten for free – and had forgotten about until just a few weeks ago.  My sister got it for free when she bought a bunch of things at Waterstones before coming home last summer.  It was for one of the two of us to read but we never got round to it and, before long, it just ended up on the table in the living room and was mostly forgotten.  Then, about two weeks ago, I saw that the newest Jackson Brodie book was featured on The Staff Recommends and the name rang enough of a bell that I remembered this book sitting at home.  Then, less than six hours before I got on a train to come home for the weekend, The Biblioracle ends up recommending it to me.  That, my friends, is some cosmic awesomeness if I’ve ever seen it.

Anyway, the book itself: good-not-great.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  I read it in a day without pushing, although I admit to reading most of the day.  There was something comforting about Atkinson’s assured writing – but it also felt a little too convenient, a little too simple.  Jackson Brodie is not like the other named cops who show up in the mysteries I tend to read.  Harry Hole sticks vividly in my head because Jo Nesbo writes in a particular fashion, the entire Dublin Murder Squad are fully realized in Tana French’s novels – same with detectives going back to Poirot and Holmes.  Brodie just… is.  I can’t picture him in my head, much as I can’t really picture most of the other characters from the novel.  There are vague outlines of these individuals but nothing distinct.  A happy, somewhat hazy presence – but nothing that I imagine will stick.  I don’t need to know what Jackson will be up to next.  If we happen to run into each other, great – but he didn’t nail the introduction and so I’m not left wanting more.

The book itself clicks together in that satisfying puzzle way, with pieces slotting into place on queue.  There was a pleasant realization that I was smarter than the author when I predicted most of the major plot twists around… 1pm.  But it wasn’t a “HA!” I’m-better-than-you feeling – just a satisfaction at realizing that this book wasn’t going to be challenging, wasn’t going to keep me up.  I could put it down and come back later – I wouldn’t have that gnawing urge to just read it straight through.  It is a well-constructed mystery that deftly juggles three different stories before bringing them together satisfactorily – if a little too neatly.  There was something just a bit too nice about the way all of these stories intersected.  Something that felt artificial.  Sure, it was heartwarming to see the connections come together and leave everyone happy – but it rang false, in a way.  Perhaps because these ‘case histories’ were all rather violent and saddening – and there’s such a sad story in Brodie’s own past, revealed rather abruptly and somewhat hamfistedly 2/3rds of the way through – that the happy ending felt… wrong.  I mean, it’s nice in a Hollywood way, but completely artificial by any other reckoning.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.  It isn’t an exceptional novel, it isn’t even a great one.  That said, it was well-written and entertaining and had this sort of warm feeling to it, much like sitting in the sun in the living room of your parents’ house and knowing you don’t have to think about a damn thing but the book in your hands.  It was, in that sense, exactly what I needed.  I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but I’m sure glad Mr. Warner did – the timing was, as always, impeccable.

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