Friday, December 9, 2011

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

I’m finding that I have an odd set of measures for the books that I read.  Most people will recommend a book if they like a plot, or find the writing style to be good (and yeah, those are important points for me too), but more often than not, when I’m recommending a book, or grilling someone about their recommendation, the first thing I want to mention or want to know about is the characters.  Specifically, are the characters engaging?  I’m willing to overlook a multitude of sins committed by an author (go ahead, ask me about Dirk Pitt and Clive Cussler, I dare you), so long as their characters are charming and likable.  I find my thoughts of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories fall into this trap as well.

Case Histories follows the stories of multiple people and families over the years, all starting with a death in the family.  What ties all these stories (or case histories – hun? hun? See what Atkinson did there…) together is Jackson Brodie, the main (for lack of a better word) character.  Jackson is from Northern Britain, has done stints in the army and police force, and is now a private investigator.  Following a very acrimonious divorce from his wife, Jackson is trying to find a comfortable place in the world.  His struggles make him endearing to the reader, and his personality makes him lovable.  The only thing wrong with the character is that there wasn’t enough of him.  

Atkinson weaved Jackson’s story in with the survivors of family violence that are introduced through the case histories.  Some of these characters are lovable, some are annoying, and but most aren’t fully developed.  Worse, however, is that some of their stories never get a final closure.  Jackson’s personality the strongest of the bunch, but his story is often over-shadowed by those of the others interspersed around him.  I think the work would have been stronger had it just been told from his point of view, as he worked to solve the mysteries introduced by his clients/the case histories.

I hope, however that Atkinson addresses this problem in her future works.  There are (currently) three more Jackson Brodie books in publication and I am going to be picking up while running errands this weekend (which, as we all know, means I’m into the author).  From the write ups, it looks like Atkinson relies on the same dove-tailing device in her other books as she uses here.  I’m NOT excited about that, but it’s a testament to her ability to write engaging characters that I AM excited about revisiting Brodie.

What’s more, I understand that there’s a British TV show based on these books.  So, let’s get this straight: Atkinson is going to get my money for both the books and the (inevitable) DVD purchase?  All because she’s a good character writer?  Just goes to show – write me a good character study, and my wallet will follow you anywhere.  Well played, Atkinson. Well played indeed.

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