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Kate Atkinson

Case Histories

“It would be like a Hardy novel, before it all goes wrong.”

Introducing Jackson Brodie

Case Histories

Cambridge is sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet – Lost on the left, Found on the right – and the two never seem to balance.

Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, Jackson attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realize that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected…

 

‘Not just the best novel I read this year but the best mystery of the decade’   Stephen King

'Triumphant…Her best book yet...A tragi-comedy for our times'   Sunday Telegraph

‘An astonishingly complex and moving literary detective story’   Guardian

 

For Reading Group topics, see Resources.

 

1

Case History No. 1 1970 

Family Plot

How lucky were they? a heat wave in the middle of the school holidays, exactly where it belonged. Every morning the sun was up long before they were, ­ making a mockery of the flimsy ­ summer curtains that hung limply at their bedroom windows, a sun already hot and sticky with promise before Olivia even opened her eyes. Olivia, as reliable as a rooster, always the first to wake, so that no one in the house had bothered with an alarm clock since she was born three years ago.

Olivia, the youngest and therefore the one currently sleeping in the small back bedroom with the nursery-rhyme wallpaper, a room that all of them had occupied and been ousted from in turn. Olivia, as cute as a ­ button, they were all agreed, even Julia who had taken a long time to get over being displaced as the baby of the family, a position she had occupied for five ­ satisfying years before Olivia came along.

Rosemary, their mother, said that she wished Olivia could stay at this age for ever because she was so ­ lovable. They had never heard her use that word to describe any of them. They had not even realized that such a word existed in her vocabulary, which was ­ usually restricted to tedious commands – come here, go away, be quiet, and – most frequent of all – stop that. Sometimes she would walk into a room or appear in the garden, glare at them and say, whatever it is you’re doing, don’t, and then simply walk away again, leaving them feeling aggrieved and badly done by, even when caught red-handed in the middle of some piece of mischief – devised by Sylvia usually.

Their capacity for wrongdoing, especially under Sylvia’s reckless leader­ ship, was apparently limitless. The eldest three were (everyone agreed) ‘a handful’, too close together in age to be distinguishable to their mother so that they had evolved into a collective child to which she found it hard to attribute individual details and which she addressed at random – Julia-Sylvia-Amelia-whoever you are – said in an exasperated tone as if it was their fault there were so many of them. Olivia was ­ usually excluded from this weary litany; Rosemary never seemed to get her mixed up with the rest of them.

They had supposed Olivia would be the last to occupy the small back bedroom and that one day the nursery-rhyme wallpaper would finally be scraped off (by their harassed mother because their father said ­ hiring a professional decorator was a waste of money) and be replaced by something more grown-up – ­ flowers or perhaps ponies, although anything would be better than the Elastoplast pink adorning the room that Julia and Amelia shared, a colour that had looked so promis­ ing to the two of them on the paint chart and proved so alarming on the walls and which their mother said she didn’t have the time or money (or energy) to replace.

Now it transpired that Olivia was going to be undertaking the same rite of passage as her older sisters, leaving behind the – rather badly aligned – Humpty-Dumptys and Little Miss Muffets to make way for an afterthought whose advent had been announced, in a rather offhand way, by Rosemary the previous day as she dished out a makeshift lunch of corned-beef sandwiches and orange squash on the lawn.

‘Wasn’t Olivia the afterthought?’ Sylvia said to no one in ­ par­ ticular, and Rosemary frowned at her eldest daughter as if she had just noticed her for the first time. Sylvia, thirteen and until recently an ­ enthusiastic child (many people would have said overenthusiastic), ­ promised to be a mordant cynic in her teenage years. Gawky, be­ spectacled Sylvia, her teeth recently caged in ugly orthodontic braces, had greasy hair, a hooting laugh and the long, thin fingers and toes of a creature from outer space. Well-meaning people called her an ‘ugly duckling’ (said to her face, as if it was a compliment, which was certainly not how it was taken by Sylvia), imagining a future Sylvia casting off her braces, acquiring contact lenses and a bosom, and blossoming into a swan. Rosemary did not see the swan in Sylvia, especially when she had a shred of corned beef stuck in her braces. Sylvia had recently developed an unhealthy obsession with ­ religion, claiming that God had spoken to her. Rosemary wondered if it was a normal phase that ­ adolescent girls went through, if God was merely an alternative to pop stars or ponies. Rosemary decided it was best to ignore Sylvia’s tête-à-têtes with the Almighty. And at least conversations with God were free, whereas the upkeep on a pony would have cost a­ fortune.

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Reviews for Case Histories

'Her best book yet, an astonishingly complex and moving literary detective story that made me sob but also snort with laughter. It's the sort of novel you have to start rereading the minute you've finished it'

Guardian

'Sharp humour, together with a number of unexpected twists makes this a typically pacey and intelligent read'

Daily Mail

'A greedy feast of a story by a masterful author...A profound, exciting and lingering read'

Daily Express

'Triumphant...Her best book yet...A tragi-comedy for our times'

Sunday Telegraph

'To read it is to enter a hall of mirrors...Part complex family drama, part mystery, it winds up having more depth and vividness than ordinary thrillers and more thrills than ordinary fiction...A wonderfully tricky book'

New York Times

'As satisfying as anything dreamed up by Raymond Chandler, but the beauty of the novel lies in its spot-on characterizations, pitch perfect observations of contemporary culture and a sharp, wisecracking narrative voice'

Time Out

'Atkinson is very good indeed... more satisfying than many detective novels. Everyone who picks it up will feel compelled to follow it through to the last page'

Guardian

'Brilliantly detailed and unexpectedly funny'

Mirror

'Civilised, funny, life-affirming and hugely enjoyable'

Literary Review

'Brilliantly playful, witty and original... massive and consistent talent for comedy'

The Scotsman

'Perceptive and engaging'

Independent

'Shot through with sharp, black humour, and introducing a loveable hero in Brodie, this is storytelling that satisfies at every level'

Marie Claire (Book of the Month)

'Murder, mystery and Atkinson's skill make for an atmospheric and moving story'

Eve

'Intriguing and affecting... she has also created a compelling central character in world-weary private investigator Jackson Brodie, who is determined to bring justice to all the lives that lie fractured around him'

Red (Book of the Month)

'Funny, furious fourth novel rumbustiously drives a path through the genre of detective fiction, demolishing its careful, forensic summation of human behaviour and replacing them with bloody, believable, vigorous tales'

Rachel Cusk

'Vivid, multifaceted... Case Histories manages to be such an ultimately joyful novel.. I found myself captivated throughout by the vivacity and big-hearted humour... skilled juxtaposition'

WBQ

'Not just the best novel I have read this year...but the best mystery of the decade. There are actually four mysteries, nesting like Russian dolls, and when they begin to fit together, I defy any reader not to feel a combination of delight and amazement. Case Histories is the literary equivalent of a triple axel. I read it once for pleasure and then again just to see how it was done. This is the kind of book you shove in people's faces, saying 'You gotta read this!'

Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

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