Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Will There Be Good News?

The latest Kate Atkinson novel, When Will There Be Good News?, is her third featuring former soldier/cop/private investigator Jackson Brodie, but Atkinson's books are so far removed from the usual mystery novel as to be beyond that genre. So while there are mystery and suspense elements, what you have is a stellar literary novel examining coincidence, interconnectedness, and the anxieties and failings of fascinating characters. I'm glad I'm not a character in an Atkinson novel--she's brutal--but I love reading her characters, who are among the most complex, most human characters in contemporary literature. In the first twelve pages, she made me care so deeply about the little family she'd sketched that I was devastated when the inevitable tragedy occurs. The survivor, a six-year-old who grows up to be Dr. Joanna Hunter, now has a baby and a husband with some dubious associations. Her "mother's help," sixteen-year-old Reggie is an orphan plagued by a bad-seed brother. Meanwhile, DCI Louise Monroe brings Dr. Hunter the news that her family's murderer is about to go free at the same time she obsesses over another "lost woman" case. Jackson Brodie, newly (and hastily) wed, ends up on the wrong train in every possible sense. When Dr. Hunter goes missing, Reggie seeks help from Jackson and Louise. I couldn't put this book down as I waited to find out Dr. Hunter's fate. The mysteries wind through the novel, and the reader can begin to see connections but won't put together all the pieces. I had my suspicions on a few matters, and though in a sense I was right, I didn't anticipate Atkinson's execution. She's always surprising, even when you know surprises are coming. A week later, I'm still musing over the brilliant ending. And her writing is lyrical yet accurate, a pleasure to read, with biting humor to ease the suspense.

Hands down, the best book I've read this year. Of course, any year Kate Atkinson releases a novel, I expect it to be the best book of that year. The first in the Jackson Brodie series is Case Histories, followed by One Good Turn. Although When Will There Be Good News? works well as a stand-alone novel, you'll want to meet the characters in the first two books first.

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