Thursday, July 08, 2010

A fanboy's assessment of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories

Book 54: Case Histories by Kate Akinson

Raise the white flag.

Throw in the towel.

I surrender. Any attempt at objectivity or fairness is not possible. I am a Kate Atkinson fanboy.

With the completion yesterday of Case Histories, I have now read three books by Kate. And I like her better as a writer with each subsequent book.

Other than the fact that she's a great writer and storyteller, I like Kate's work (forgive the overly familiar use of her first name, but that's how we fanboys are) because it's Dickensian. There were obvious comparisons between Great Expectations and Kate's first book, Behind the Scenes of the Museum. But the similarities don't stop there.

Like Dickens, Kate has the knack for creating vivid minor characters. Characters who are not mere cardboard cut-outs, but who wear the mantle of humanity in ways that illuminate and amuse and that cause the reader to pause and say, "I know that man." "I've met that woman." Her characters are quirky and vulnerable and real.

And, like Dickens, Kate has the amazing ability to leaven horror -- a toddler gone missing, a teen-age woman inexplicably and brutally murdered -- with humor. She understands that one of the basic truths of life is that it goes on and that laughter and hope often follow the most horrific events.

Those moments of horror -- the missing toddler, the murdered teen -- along with a rural ax murder (it would have to be rural, wouldn't it), form the case histories that are presented to Jackson Brodie, Kate's retired military police and erstwhile police inspector, who is now a private investigator.

Some of the humor in Case Histories derives from Brodie's private musings and misgivings-- he's horrified by the stirring of an erection while in a dentist chair and he has absolutely no tolerance for his ex-wife's new husband. This is, of course, part of the reason Brodie is such a wonderful protagonist. He's smart and competent and affectionate and as deeply screwed up as the rest of us. He wants to move to France. He dwells on his eight-year-old daughter's safety and he sometimes sleeps with the wrong woman.

What important here, aren't the cases -- although Brodie does solve two of them and the third is resolved entirely to the reader's satisfaction (this reader anyway) -- but the interaction between Brodie and his clients. It is in this interaction that Kate's characters are at their most human and Kate is at her most entertaining as a writer.

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