After reading Case Histories, the first of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels just before New Year, I was desperate to continue with the series. Luckily, I saw a copy of the second book, One Good Turn (subtitled A Jolly Murder Mystery), on the shelf on my next visit to the library so I didn’t have too long to wait!
Following the events of Case Histories, Jackson Brodie has given up his private investigating, taken his inheritance and is leading a quiet life in the French countryside. At the beginning of One Good Turn, he is visiting Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where his girlfriend, Julia, is acting in a new play. On Tuesday, as he waits to enter a comedy venue, Jackson witnesses a road rage incident in which one man attacks another with a baseball bat. Jackson doesn’t want to get involved but it seems that he may have no choice.
Another bystander is crime writer Martin Canning, who intervenes by throwing his laptop at the assailant – and then begins to wish he hadn’t when he is asked to accompany the victim to hospital and stay with him overnight. They say that one good turn deserves another, but Martin’s good turn leads to a chain of bizarre incidents that could almost have come straight out of the pages of one of his own Nina Riley crime novels.
Over the next four days, a complex plot unfolds involving a fraudulent businessman, a mysterious cleaning company, a knife-wielding Russian girl, two teenage shoplifters, an unwelcome guest and an aggressive dog. Jackson can’t help being drawn into the investigations, but as the mystery deepens he finds that he has become both a victim and a suspect.
I had enjoyed Case Histories but I thought this one was even better. It was good to meet Jackson again and to see how his relationship with Julia has developed, but I also think it’s good that Jackson is only one of a large cast of eccentric, colourful characters, each of whom becomes caught up in the whirlwind of events. Atkinson puts so much detail and so much humour into her characterisation that each one feels like a real person – we can laugh at them and with them, but we can understand them and have sympathy for them as well.
In this book, we get to know Gloria Hatter, the bored and disillusioned wife of an unscrupulous businessman in trouble for fraud; police detective Louise Monroe, who is trying to investigate the case while struggling to cope with the behaviour of her teenage son; and my favourite, Martin the crime novelist, a shy, reclusive man still haunted by memories of a disastrous trip to Russia several years earlier. Martin’s Nina Riley mysteries sounded so much fun I kept wishing they really existed!
The one criticism I had of Case Histories – the fact that it dealt with three separate storylines that never really came together – was not a problem with this book, as it’s more of a conventional crime novel in that respect. Characters and events that seemed unrelated at the beginning do eventually begin to overlap and things start to fall into place (comparisons are made throughout the novel to a set of Russian dolls, with one fitting inside the other). I loved the ending too; there was a surprise on the final page that left me questioning everything I’d read about one of the characters!
Now I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series, When Will There Be Good News?