It seems that everyone is talking about Kate Atkinson’s new novel, A God in Ruins, at the moment – and that’s definitely a book I would like to read soon, as I loved Life After Life – but I’m also still working through her Jackson Brodie series, of which this book, When Will There Be Good News?, is the third.
The story opens with a tragedy: the murder of a mother and two of her three children as they walk home through the countryside on a beautiful summer’s day. Six-year-old Joanna, who witnesses the brutal attack, is the sole survivor. Thirty years later, Joanna is living in Edinburgh where she is now a doctor with a successful practice and mother of a beloved baby son. She has managed to put the horrors of her childhood behind her and build a new life for herself, but how will she react when she hears that the man who murdered her family is about to be released from prison?
Another character with a troubled past is sixteen-year-old Reggie (short for Regina) Chase, Joanna’s ‘mother’s help’. Reggie is alone in the world apart from her criminal brother, Billy, and the only bright spots in her life are her friendship with Joanna and her love of ancient literature (she has left school but is continuing to study Greek and Latin in private sessions with an eccentric retired teacher, Ms MacDonald). When Joanna and her baby disappear, Reggie is sure something terrible must have happened and she can’t understand why nobody else seems to be worried.
Like the previous two books in this series (Case Histories and One Good Turn), the plot is built around coincidences, chance encounters and interlinking storylines. This is how our old friend Jackson Brodie is brought into the story; accidentally boarding a train heading north towards Edinburgh instead of south to London, he finds himself caught up in a rail disaster which brings him into contact not only with Reggie but also with Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, one of his love interests from One Good Turn. It was nice to meet Jackson and Louise again, but the real star of this book is Reggie, possibly my favourite character to appear in the series so far.
I find Kate Atkinson’s books very quick, addictive reads – despite enjoying them so much that I don’t really want to reach the end, I just can’t seem to read them slowly! As I’ve mentioned before, her books are not conventional crime novels. Crimes are committed and investigated, but the focus tends to be on the impact the crimes have on the characters, and the events and relationships that arise as a result. Each time I’ve finished a Jackson Brodie novel I’ve found that it’s not the plot I remember, but the characters. They are so well developed and so human, with hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, doubts and worries that any reader will be able to identify with.
This is probably the darkest book of the series so far, with so many tragedies, disasters and accidents that I could certainly understand why it was given the title When Will There Be Good News? The book is not without some humour and lighter moments, though, so don’t let that put you off reading it! I now have only one more Jackson Brodie novel to read (Started Early, Took My Dog), but I may be tempted to read A God in Ruins first – or is there another Kate Atkinson book you think I really need to read without delay?