Case Histories Review
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Novelist Kate Atkinson is generating a lot of buzz as the recipient of the 2013 Costa Award, one of the UK’s most prestigious literary awards, for her novel Life after Life. Ten years before writing Life after Life, Atkins began her first and only series of mystery books featuring Private Detective Jackson Brody with the novel Case Histories.

During a short period of time, Detective Brody of Cambridge, England, is hired to look into three separate cold cases: the decades-old disappearance of a young child from her family yard, the unmotivated murder of a local woman, and the brutal ax-murder of a young husband. Brody seems to do little detecting and more visiting as he investigates the crimes—often with his 8-going-on-30-year-old daughter, a secretive nun, a grieving father, and the neighborhood “witch,” who is very attached to her feline companions. Brody, a former police inspector, is fresh out of a divorce and struggling to find his place in his daughter’s new family. He seems both amazed and irritated by the new cast of characters he encounters while navigating the cases.

Case Histories is what I would term a literary mystery, meaning that it’s not like the fast-paced novels we’re used to by authors such as James Patterson. This is family saga disguised as crime fiction, with a non-linear narrative that may be off-putting to some. Themes of obsession, incest, and family dysfunction are peppered with sly humor and a well-crafted plot. However, plot takes a back burner to character in this novel. It may be a classic whodunit, but readers are given very few clues. The mysteries are solved cleanly in the end but not necessarily through the detection of Jackson Brody himself.

Readers of Sara Gran or Gillian Flynn may appreciate the slow and subtle pacing of the novel, but as popular as Kate Atkinson is right now, the first Jackson Brody mystery may not be for all readers. Some may feel that it’s too disjointed and a bit too slow, but lovers of literary fiction may enjoy the ride.

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