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Case Histories: A Novel    by Kate Atkinson order for
Case Histories
by Kate Atkinson
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Case Histories (set in the United Kingdom) Kate Atkinson presents her readers with three crimes spread across time, each with puzzling aspects. Then she throws in an unusual detective, an ex-policeman with a surprising history of his own. The reader follows along with PI Jackson Brodie as he reacts to the individuals involved, and slowly puts the puzzle pieces together. Some of them combine in ways that I really did not expect.

First we see the dysfunctional Land family - a self-absorbed father, harried, worn out mother, and daughters running wild. The youngest child, sweet little Olivia, disappears one night while camping in a tent in the garden with one of her sisters. Next we meet 'morbidly obese' Theo, a widower and worrier who loves his daughter Laura absolutely. The day she begins a temp job at his law firm, violence erupts on the premises. Finally we join eighteen-year-old, anal Michelle, who loves her new baby, but hates her isolated country cottage life - a hatchet ends her rural interlude.

The discovery of 'Blue Mouse' prompts Olivia's (now adult) siblings Amelia and Julia to hire Jackson to investigate their small sister's cold case. Ten years after his beloved daughter's death, Theo seeks closure, again through Jackson. And Michelle's sister Shirley asks him to find her missing niece, Tanya. Jackson has his own problems with his ex-wife, who plans to take their daughter to New Zealand. Also, someone keeps trying to kill him. Why? And who is the mysterious Caroline, and what draws her to the new vicar?

The author reveals the core of her characters through their feelings and vulnerabilities, as she moves her PI around the country, sifting through the detritus of past actions. The polished elegance of the presentation of Case Histories belies the past and present violence that drives the plot. Atkinson perceptively shows the effects of long-term damage done to individuals, but also gives hope that some do manage to pick up the pieces of their lives.

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