Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories by 

Kate Atkinson

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 304 pages, 2004

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: I’ve been in love with Atkinson’s writing since I read her

first book, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

Synopsis: Private investigator Jackson Brodie has three cases on his hands:

there’s Amelia and Julia, middle-aged sisters pushed by the death of their father and a

subsequent discovery to finally find out what happened to their sister Olivia, who was just

three when she vanished; a woman searching for her niece; and a devastated father still

hoping to track down his daughter’s killer a decade later. Can Brodie help close their open

wounds, or have the passing years taken away the possibility of redemption?

Why you should read this book: Most literary authors seem to avoid the ‘less

prestigious’ crime/mystery genres like the plague, but that’s left the door wide open for

Atkinson to do an amazing job with her topic. It’s the story of what happens to crime

victims’ families years down the road, long after everyone else has forgotten and moved on with their lives. Heartbreakingly unable to turn their backs on their pasts, these charactors cannot or will not give up the hope that answers may one day soothe their wounded souls. Atkinson pulls the

reader through the book’s mysteries with fully-formed characters that come alive in their frailities, determination, and inquisitiveness. Case Histories explodes with emotions, from the desperate hope of a last resort to the anguish of wishing you’d done things differently to the quieter joys of finding something you might not have even been searching for. A must-read whether you prefer

straight-forward literary fiction or mystery novels, because Atkinson blends them


Why you should avoid this book: Not for the mystery reader wanting the thrills and

suspense of chasing a ‘fresh’ crime. The ending might be a little too pat for some,

considering the arduous circumstances Brodie is facing.

Opening paragraph:

How lucky were they? A heat wave in the middle of the school holidays, exactly

where it belonged. Every morning the sun was up long before they were, making a mockery of

the flimsy summer curtains that hung limply at their bedroom windows, a sun already hot and

sticky with promise before Olivia even opened her eyes. Olivia, as reliable as a rooster,

always the first to wake, so that no one in the house had bothered with an alarm clock since

she was born three years ago.

Fabulous quotes:

Sometimes Michelle tried to remember what it was like before the baby came, when

it had been just the two of them and they could lie in bed all day, and have feverish,

exhausting sex and then eat toast and jam and watch television on the tiny black-and-white

set that they used to have at the foot of the bed until Michelle knocked it over because

Keith was watching the snooker (on a black-and-white set, what was the point of that?) and

the baby was screaming and she just couldn’t do it any more.
She did love them,

she really did. She just couldn’t feel it.
They weren’t bonded together, they were like

molecules, molecules that couldn’t bond together into stable elements and instead bounced

around like bingo balls. She should have done science, not spent all her time with her head

in novels. Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they

implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on

and on and on.

‘More tea, Mr Brodie?’ Julia asked, pouring the tea without waiting for an

answer. ‘”And is there honey still for tea?” Yes, there most certainly is and we shall have

it on our scones. Milly, do you want honey on your scones?’
At least the tea in the

Orchard Tea Rooms was decent, unlike Binky’s. Julia’s little finger had a scar, like a thin

silver ring, than ran all the way round it. She had it crooked, in a very ladylike way, as

she drank her tea. She caught Jackson looking at it. ‘Chopped it off,’ she said breezily.

Amelia snorted. ‘Accidentally,’ Julia added. Amelia snorted again. ‘You’ll turn into a pig

if you carry on like that, Milly,’ Julia said.

Also recommended: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; Mercy Among the

Children by David Adams Richards; The Effects of Light by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.

Also by this author: Behind the Scenes at the Museum; Human Croquet;

Abandonment; Emotionally Weird; Not the End of the World.

Fun tidbit: Ooo, Kate Atkinson’s top ten

favourite novels, which include works by Nabokov and Vonnegut.

Would I read more by this author? Yes, yes, and yes! I love this woman! Her

writing just gets better and better – she’s definitely one of my favourite authors.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2005

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