More death in Cambridge (it's a dangerous place)

Some novels should be issued with a health warning: For the next few months you will drive family and friends nutty with frequent recommendations of this book. Royal Mail vans will be driven into the ground because you will have ordered so many copies of the book to be delivered to the same family and friends on every possible occasion - birthdays, Christmas, and Barmitzvahs.

Perhaps not the barmitzvahs, as Kate Atkinson's Case histories is a bit too much of a grown-up book for that; but yes, this is one book that I would heartily recommend to anyone. It manages to be both a stunning piece of crime fiction, while also transcending genres. For anyone who's into literary fiction, and has never quite understood the allure of crime, this would be the book to give them.

The book was a Christmas present from a fellow crime enthusiast (thank you Clare!). And to be honest I wasn't sure whether I was going to enjoy it or not. I'd read Kate Atkinson's well reviewed literary novel Behind the scenes at the museum, and wasn't that wowed by it. Enjoyable enough, but it didn't make me want to read anything more by her. However after reading Police at the funeral this seemed the perfect companion piece; and it is stunningly good.

The structure is quite complex. It centres around a private eye based in Cambridge, the likeable Jackson Brodie; an ex-policeman haunted by a crime that had a very personal impact on his own life. Brodie is tasked with solving various crimes that took place between 10 and 30 years ago. The common link between them all is that they involve young girls. The novel is structured very symmetrically moving from the chronologically furthest away crime to the present and then gradually back again.

It sounds as though it should be complex and confusing. That it manages to be complex, yet reads beautifuly and is anything but confusing is a tribute to Atkinson's skill as an author. There are coincidences aplenty, but they work, they are not unconvincing. She writes brilliantly about love and loss; and her characters are beautifully formed. Cambridge is as well described as I have read anywhere; while the eccentricities of a certain section of the Cambridge population are brought lovingly and very funnily to life. I look forward with great enthusiasm to the rest of the series.


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