One of the reasons I adore Kate Atkinson so much is that her books are mysteries that you didn’t know were mysteries until the very end. She has a writing style that I have found to be fairly unique. Her prose tends to border on stream of consciousness and twisted plot lines, but doesn’t come off as being too presumptuous or even at times, wordy. Her gift is for creating characters that are not always what they seem and at the same time, are fully formed and believable. Her latest book, When Will There Be Good News? imagines a world where Joanna Hunter (in the now) is re-visited by the horror of her past, her family (mother and siblings) brutally killed when she was six in front of her. Thirty years later, the killer is paroled and Joanna suddenly disappears. The question then becomes, is Joanna Hunter the innocent she has portrayed after all these years?
This is the third book by Atkinson that features Jackson Brodie, a character she created in Case Histories, who has re-appeared in her previous book, One Good Turn. Ex-solider, ex-policeman, Brodie is now a retired millionaire whose own faults seemingly are also his weaknesses. Brodie, who this time around plays a subtle minor character in the drama as it unfolds, seemingly is one step away from the realities that surround him. What he desires and wants, is what we all desire and want an yet for Brodie, everything is almost out of reach. As with her other books, Atkinson has a gift for sly observation and reporting on and grasping the intricies of the human condition that so many of us either can’t grasp or want to forget.
When Will There Be Good News? is a taut novel but this is the first of her books I have found to be a little bit more messy in the wrapping up of the plot. Things happen, and to Joanna Hunter, Reggie Chase and Jackson Brodie, they seemingly happen for a reason. We root for them in ways we cannot think we would, and we excuse them of their flaws but it is in their flaws (Brodie’s and Hunter’s) that seemingly were a little too gapping to make believable. But in Atkinson’s own problems with the writing, it is also her greatest strengths. Atkinson’s books are not “skimming” books, you really do have to pay attention as she will throw out a word or a line of dialog that suddenly makes some prior related instances, much more sense. Once she throws that word or line out, it will not be repeated or revisited. Miss that key, and the book will not be as good as you think it could be.
I adore her plot twists and devices as it makes her books wholly full filling. I love the fact that everytime I finish one of her books, I can revsit it at another date and find something new that I missed the first time. I adore the fact that she asks questions that may not always have the easiest answers and her answers (and questions) are not presumptious or overworked. Pick up any of Atkinson’s works and you will not be disappointed — she’s not as well known in the States as she is in the U.K., but while this is not her strongest book, this will hopefully push her over the edge.