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Pickle Me This

October 15, 2006

One Good Turn

I’ve raved about Kate Atkinson before, when I read Case Histories last summer and when I reread Behind The Scenes at the Museum in August. She writes with the social and historical awareness of Margaret Drabble, but with the dark edge of Hilary Mantel, though of course her works are also startlingly original (and challenge genres). Kate Atkinson has yet to fail me, and in her new novel One Good Turn, she has truly crafted what her subtitle suggests: “a jolly good mystery”.

Yes, indeed, a mystery. I have spoken to fans of early-Atkinson who’ve gone off her a bit since her characters took up sleuthing, but none of them had actually read the books in question (Case Histories, and now its companion One Good Turn [though the two books both stand up alone]). I am no mystery fan (my interest sort of waned with Nate the Great) but I’ll read anything by Kate Atkinson, and moreover Behind the Scenes… really had a mystery at its heart. The genre suits Atkinson well, and she writes with her signature wit and brilliance.

In One Good Turn, Atkinson expects her readers to hang on tight, because the ride goes so fast. Jackson Brodie from Case Histories has stumbled onto a whole new batch of mystery at the Edinburgh Festival, but he is just one character in an excellent ensemble which includes a suburban housewife with a trick up her sleeve, a ruthless Russian call-girl, a fourteen year-old shoplifter and has-been comedian. Atkinson’s tongue-in-cheek depiction of the publishing world is particularly humourous, as seen by a writer of a particularly bad mystery series, and the book’s subtle CSI references indicate that Atkinson is very aware of the world she’s writing in. The story itself is so tight, admirable considering how many pieces had to be tied together in the end. The pace is quick, twists are so surprising, the end was a stunner. One Good Turn was simply a delight.

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