Novel: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

What a pleasure it is returning to Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series for its second volume, One Good Turn (2006). Having now sampled a few of Atkinson’s novels, I’ve come to expect quirky characters and madcap antics, but it’s particularly evident in this terrific series, which practically reads itself.

Case Histories introduced private investigator Jackson Brodie as he pursued several cases; in the similar-but-different One Good Turn, the cases seem to be pursuing him. The action migrates north to Edinburgh, Scotland, where Brodie—now wealthy and retired—is on vacation, accompanying his new girlfriend Julia to an arts festival. Julia is a vivacious actress starring in a terrible play, and while Brodie is there to support her career, he can’t seem to turn off his investigatory curiosity when he witnesses an incident of road rage on the street. The encounter entangles several peculiar figures. Three are particularly notable: crime fiction writer Martin Canning, detective Louise Monroe, and Gloria Hatter, the wife of a local real estate mogul. The lives of these three weirdos, and more, become entwined with Brodie’s, especially once he stumbles across a dead body on the beach—only to have the tide wash it away before he can convince anyone it was there. Violent altercations, dead bodies, mistaken identities, and murders soon follow, with Brodie haplessly connected to all…increasingly drawn back into the vocation he thought he had left behind.

If Case Histories was a striking arrival for Brodie, One Good Turn gets even more mileage out of its supporting characters. Monroe is a well rounded and accessible foil for Brodie, but Martin’s nebbishy heroics and Gloria’s inscrutable oddness are both memorably amusing. Meanwhile, the quirky relationship between Brodie and Julia makes for an engrossing B story running under the surface mayhem, as their “opposites attract” dynamic is challenged by conflicting career paths. Occasionally, Atkinson spends so much time reveling in digressive inner monologue that the plot threatens to go blurry. Somehow it doesn’t matter, though; the amusing, neurotic tangents are part of the stylistic charm. At the end of the day, the mysterious details—often clinging together with wild coincidental randomness—aren’t as important as how they propel delightful characters headlong into each other’s lives in wacky mosaic. And then, sure enough, the threads tie off neatly in the end, leaving one feeling bedazzled. A wildly entertaining read.

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