Case Histories is the first in Kate Atkinson’s crime series starring private investigator Jackson Brodie. In this first outing, Jackson becomes entangled in three old cases–a little girl who vanished from her yard, a young woman who was murdered while working at her father’s office, and another young woman who allegedly murdered her husband with an axe. One by one these cases are resurrected, and Jackson finds himself following the interwoven threads of all three.
The plotting is intricate, with lots of characters and several story threads all going at once. By the end every one of those threads has been tied up neatly, and it’s fun to watch them all fall into place. The pacing is leisurely, so it never quite reaches the crescendo of a suspense novel or even a mystery, but it’s still compelling all the way through. With her light touch and sense of humor, Atkinson also manages to make this novel seem like a light one–even though it deals with very heavy crimes, emotions, and dysfunction, nothing ever feels bleak or too dark.
The characters, and the wealth of personality and backstory Atkinson gives them, were all enjoyable. Jackson is a great PI–an ex-soldier and ex-policeman with a heart of gold. He’s got a tragic past and a rough present, complete with ex-wife and shared custody of a daughter. In all, he’s got a very kind and capable sort of vibe–he reminds me a little of a nicer, less manipulative, softer-edged Mackey from the Dublin Murder Squad books. At one point in the novel another character accuses Jackson of “becoming a woman.” Which, while not very nice or politically correct, does get the character across.
I’d offer these as a read-alike to those who enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. The first is In The Woods. French’s work is darker and more disturbing, with a lot more of a psychological suspense bent, but the Jackson Brodie books still deliver a nice blend of police procedural, crime, and character-driven story. You might also enjoy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, the first in a series about Quirke, a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin, or Deborah Crombie’s mystery series starring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James (the first is A Share in Death).