Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Case Histories

Guess what? I finished another book last weekend! Yep, I really did. But there was something really different about this one compared to my last few reads.

I didn’t like it.


Let me back up for a second. The book in question is Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. The premise sounded interesting – three seemingly unrelated cold cases and a private investigator caught up in researching all of them. Throw in several attempts on his life, and it made for a good hook for my mystery-loving self. But my mystery-loving self has been long nurtured on Agatha Christie.

The book is actually quite good as a character study. Pages and pages of lengthy descriptions and stream-of-consciousness reveal characters’ thoughts, traits and motivations. But that’s where it stops. The plot actually becomes secondary to all of the character study. Jackson Brodie, the detective in question, spends more time on his own thoughts, random conversations and interactions than on actually investigating the cold cases. And the irony is – wait for it – that he only manages to solve one of them.

I got irritated pretty early on in the book. Usually when I find myself rushing through a mystery, it’s because I am on pins and needles to find out whodunnit. Not this time. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I was only reading to get past the character study and into the story. Imagine how disappointed I was when I figured out that there wasn’t much story. Bummer.

And the case Brodie managed to solve? Even that one came about far too easily for my taste, because the solution was right there all the time. Here’s a tip – when everyone asked says basically, “That person was always strange – hearing voices and talking to them. We knew they’d snap at some point, but the police never questioned them,” then it’s pretty much a no-brainer that they’re the one who committed the crime.

Even the attempt on Brodie’s life is obvious. Honestly, it read like an episode of Stupid Criminals. Surely, I kept thinking, the ONE person who drives a distinctive car COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE the one following the detective. THAT would be too obvious of a red herring. Nope. I was wrong.

Now before you’re convinced that I couldn’t stand the book, let me make two points. First – Atkinson truly has a gift for putting us inside her characters’ minds. They are living, breathing individuals with whom we can empathize. If only the plot had been more solid, more intriguing, more there. I’d read more of her work just to experience her gift of creating characters who seem to step off the page. Second, the way that one of the cold cases is explained is truly unusual. Atkinson makes sure that the reader knows exactly how the murder went down – but Brodie has no clue. The only other people who know are the two involved. And that’s a unique approach. Reminded me of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon in that respect.

My final opinion? The lowdown, the 411, the whole enchilada? I want to read more of Kate Atkinson’s work. I want to understand where she’s coming from and see if the scanty plot here wasn’t just a fluke. And if you’re looking for a quick read with minimal mystery-thinking involved, this is one for you.

What mystery authors set your mind a-churning? Who do you love? Who do you hate?

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