Kate Atkinson is a versatile writer. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Prize and would be considered by many as a mo...moreKate Atkinson is a versatile writer. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Prize and would be considered by many as a modern classic. She subsequently wrote several other novels which would probably be classified as literary fiction, but more recently she has also written several books of crime fiction. Having read her earlier books, I have been meaning to read the crime fiction for some time. Case Histories was the first of these and introduces Jackson Brodie, a former police officer turned private investigator. The books were televised earlier this year, which has probably introduced Brodie to a much wider audience who will hopefully be encouraged to try her other books.
As would be expected given Kate Atkinson's pedigree, the quality of the writing is excellent. I read a reasonably large amount of crime fiction, and the best features not only by a strong plot but also characters which are convincing, interesting and believable. Jackson Brodie certainly falls into this category. In Case Histories, he is introduced gradually and elements of this past history are gradually revealed through the course of the book. The Case Histories of the title refers not only to a series of mysteries which Jackson investigates, but also to his own personal history.
No matter how good the quality of the writing, Case Histories would fail as crime fiction if the plot was not also very strong. I suspect that not many writers of literary fiction could turn their hand to crime fiction as successfully has Atkinson has done - the good news is that the plot is excellent, with many twists and turns, and is certainly sufficient to keep any reader equally turning the pages.
The first three chapters of the book introduce three mysteries, set many years apart but which ultimately proved to be linked by intersecting characters. The main body of the book alternates between the three mysteries, which Jackson investigates in parallel, and this is interleaved with the story of his personal life. Sequential chapters are told from the perspective of different characters, and one of the interesting aspects of Atkinson's approach is that these chapters overlap, so that we are given accounts of the same events by different participants. As we near the end of the book the mysteries are resolved in the reverse order to which they are presented, giving a neat and symmetrical structure to the plot.
Each of the three mysteries involves characters who are superbly captured and portrayed. Their voices are quite different, and their thoughts and actions are beautifully described in a way that makes them appear very real. Since this book deals with some serious crimes, there is of course a good deal of misery and suffering, but there is some type of positive resolution in each case, even for Jackson, so that the overall tone is not as gloomy as much contemporary crime fiction. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and look forward to reading its successors. Hopefully, the crime fiction will attract many more readers to Atkinson's work and then perhaps on to her more obviously literary novels.
Dissolution is the first of CJ Sansom’s novels, set against the background of the dissolution of the monasteries. However, the title also refers to th...moreDissolution is the first of CJ Sansom’s novels, set against the background of the dissolution of the monasteries. However, the title also refers to the dissolution of the main protagonist’s belief system through the course of the novel. Matthew Shardlake is an unusual hero, a hunchback who struggles with the physical and emotional pain brought by his disability, and who will be played by Kenneth Branagh in a forthcoming television adaptation. This is a book which is easy to read – characters are portrayed in a convincing and effective way – and the plot has many twists and turns. The period in history is captured clearly, and the portrayal of Thomas Cromwell stands in interesting contrast to that in Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell. Sansom is a writer well worth discovering, both for this series of books and the very different Winter in Madrid, which is also highly recommended.
“How men fear the chaos of the world and the yawning eternity hereafter. So we build patterns to explain its terrible mysteries and reassure ourselves we are safe in this world and beyond”.
Typically amusing volume of short prose pieces and some poetry, with the common theme of theme of The North, and especially Yorkshire. Armitage is an...moreTypically amusing volume of short prose pieces and some poetry, with the common theme of theme of The North, and especially Yorkshire. Armitage is an acute observer of the small things that make us all absurd, and describes them with great affection and wry humour.(less)
The story of the Miners' Strike told from multiple perspectives - an ordinary miner, a senior union official, and an unnamed senior Tory advisor - wit...moreThe story of the Miners' Strike told from multiple perspectives - an ordinary miner, a senior union official, and an unnamed senior Tory advisor - with a number of other characters, including an appropriately murky storyline involving the security services. Not everyone finds Peace easy to read, and there are some typical experimental twists here, but GB84 is filled with passion and should be compulsory reading for anyone who didn't have the pleasure of living through the Thatcher era. Lest we forget...(less)
I liked the underlying premise of this book, but thought the use of it and the quality of the writing was disappointing. In particular, too much tedio...moreI liked the underlying premise of this book, but thought the use of it and the quality of the writing was disappointing. In particular, too much tedious and repetitive angst expounded at length. Nothing wrong with some internal reflection and a crisis of conscience, but in this case sparer writing and less of it would have been more effective. I think this one will be straight onto eBay!(less)
Pamuk''s first novel published in English, and an unusual story of confused identity set in Ottoman Istambul. The book is also concerned with scientif...morePamuk''s first novel published in English, and an unusual story of confused identity set in Ottoman Istambul. The book is also concerned with scientific progress, and the cultural clash between Chrisitianity and Islam. However, at its core is the question of what constitutes personal identitiy - does it merely consist of an accumulation of experiences or does it have an independent existence? A serious book, which requires concentration to read, though it flows well.(less)
Richard Milward was 19 when he wrote this book, and his proximity to his subject matter probably gives it a degree of veracity. although I'm not sure...moreRichard Milward was 19 when he wrote this book, and his proximity to his subject matter probably gives it a degree of veracity. although I'm not sure how easily I can judge this. It covers similar ground to the Television drama Skins, and moves quickly, without too much sentimentality or pause for breath, to its untidy ending. The writing is good, and the characters convincing, Adam more than Eve to me. A very talented young writer, but not a book for the faint-hearted.(less)
Peace has an extraordinarily bleak vision, and a unique style. There is nothing or nobody good in the world he summons. 1977 is the second book in the...morePeace has an extraordinarily bleak vision, and a unique style. There is nothing or nobody good in the world he summons. 1977 is the second book in the Red Riding Quartet, and is as dark and gripping as 1974. It is set against the background of the investigation of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. Don't expect a happy ending - only for those who like their crime fiction darkest noir.(less)
Number three in the Red Riding Quartet, and if you have reached this point you pretty much know what to expect. There is nothing good in the world cre...moreNumber three in the Red Riding Quartet, and if you have reached this point you pretty much know what to expect. There is nothing good in the world created by David Peace - a relentless, chilling downward spiral, where no positive spark can survive and only wrong can prosper. Suspend any belief you may have in the inner goodness of mankind or prepare to lose it. Powerful, bleak, mesmerising story telling for the strong of stomach.(less)
I’ve been slow arriving at Jo Nesbo’s Scandinavian crime fiction, and his detective Harry Hole. The books have ridden high in the UK fiction charts ov...moreI’ve been slow arriving at Jo Nesbo’s Scandinavian crime fiction, and his detective Harry Hole. The books have ridden high in the UK fiction charts over the last year. Nesbo has been likened by some to Steig Larsson, which is unfair since he is a well-established and very successful crime writer in how own right, with a significant body of published work behind him. Devil’s Star is not the first in the series, and may not have been the best place to start, but from what I have read it is typical of his work. Hole is a classic hero/detective – troubled romantic life, intermittently recovering alcoholic, in conflict with many of his colleagues, yet at the same time intuitive and occasionally inspired in relation to his work. The development of his character and private life is a key element of the series. The individual books (like this one) rely on plot. Devil’s Star deals with that staple of crime fiction, the serial killer. There are suitably macabre elements, plenty of twists and turns, and a satisfying denouement. Overall, a worthwhile but not too demanding read from an effective exponent of the art. I shall probably read the rest now....(less)
Do you like those intensely serious, French, introspective black and white films about relationships? The ones with moody shots of people staring mean...moreDo you like those intensely serious, French, introspective black and white films about relationships? The ones with moody shots of people staring meaningfully at each other and long silences at key moments? This book seemed to me like the literary equivalent of one of those films, although in reality it was made into a somewhat controversial film (L’amant) only in 1992. It is a short book, a novella rather than a novel, which tells the story of an intense relationship between a young French girl and an older Chinese man in South Vietnam. The English translation is written in mainly short, clipped sentences which I assume mirrors the original. The narrative is fragmented and focuses on the girl, her dysfunctional family and their attitudes to the relationship. It takes a little while as a reader to adapt to the style, but having done this story is strangely gripping and rather sad. A classic of French literature (apparently).(less)
Generally, I prefer to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, but in this case the reverse has been the case. While Slumdog Millionaire takes th...moreGenerally, I prefer to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, but in this case the reverse has been the case. While Slumdog Millionaire takes the basic premise of the novel, there are many and marked differences. The book has the same episodic structure but not the same linear storyline, and the episodes explaining how the protagonist knows the answer to each question are quite different. Probably the structure of the novel is its greatest strength, but I preferred it to the film – it is generally darker and lacks all singing and dancing!(less)