four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-CaseHistoriesPI Jackson Brodie finds his hands full when he starts to investigate three crimes that occurred in the 1970s around London. The first involves the mysterious disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land. Three decades later, her sisters find a clue in their father’s home. In the second case, a killer brutally murders a young woman who’s temping at her father’s law firm—then escapes. Finally, Michelle, living life for her husband and new baby, wants out—and is driven to violence. These cases, linked by Brodie—who has his own tortured past—address how fate divides and reunites families, and how our painful, comedic condition leads us on an endless search for closure.
Little, Brown. 320 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0316740403

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Kate Atkinson’s fifth book, Case Histories, gleams with the quiet confidence of a literary star on the rise. … No detail is too small to merit consideration, yet, instead of feeling mired in minutiae, the reader trusts that the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle will come together." Elisabeth Egan

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"If Case Histories were a typical crime novel, it would be an entertaining adventure resting solely on some bizarre plot twists. But Atkinson draws her characters to some depth, and in revealing their flaws and motivations achieves a richer, more satisfying result that is as much a ‘why-done-it’ as a whodunit." Robin Vidimos

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"But the lifelike characters in Case Histories are what make it such a compelling hybrid: part complex family drama, part mystery. It winds up having more depth and vividness than ordinary thrillers and more thrills than ordinary fiction, with a constant awareness of perils swirling beneath its surface." Janet Maslin

Guardian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Case Histories is essentially a balancing act, with evil and ignorance stacked opposite truth and healing. … Of course, Case Histories is not all sunshine and trite happy endings, but this is a book that rests on a strong and well-constructed moral framework, and is all the more powerful for it." Carrie O’Grady

Independent 3.5 of 5 Stars
"But the momentum of the book, this continual sliding and tumbling backwards in time, rather debilitates the framing narrative. … Atkinson is always perceptive and engaging, and this time perhaps a degree less antic in her postmodern playfulness." Colin Greenland

Critical Summary

Critics on the other side of the Atlantic love Atkinson; Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Prize. To Americans’ delight, Case Histories has made the great leap. The novel is not your typical crime genre fare (that is why we placed it within our literary reviews); it’s also a series of family sagas with strong moral frameworks. Atkinson delineates each character with great empathy and depth, revealing his or her motivations, flaws, and healing. She sprinkles her trademark postmodern literary references throughout the book, but this time she’s toned them down, a sign of maturity. The four alternating points of view and framing device create a somewhat labyrinthine situation, and careful readers may pick up clues before they’re supposed to. Minor flaws, really; Case Histories is that "unisex, hard-to-put-down" kind of book (Chicago Sun-Times).