This book is a continuation of two previous novels – Case Histories and One Good Turn– featuring again private detective Jackson Brodie and Chief Inspector Louise Monroe. In fact it takes place about three years after One Good Turn. Although it is a stand-alone novel, knowing the plot of the previous ones definitely helps – otherwise you might feel a bit lost among ex-husbands, ex-wives, children and ex-partners.
The story opens with a horrifying act of violence involving the family of 6-six year old Joanna, who survives against the odds and goes on becoming a successful physician. She has a handsome husband, an infant son, she employs a mother’s help in the person of sixteen-year-old Regina Chase a.k.a. Reggie, she lives in a nice house, she drives a Prius– an epitome of middle-class successful modern woman. All of a sudden Joanna is missing; only Reggie thinks something might be seriously wrong. The girl alerts Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe but Louise cannot be persuaded. After serving 30 years in prison, the murderer of Joanna’s family is released and she believes Joanna’s sudden disappearance was caused by it – the woman didn’t want to face journalists and her tragic past once again. On the other hand Joanna’s husband lies through his teeth when asked about the whereabouts of his wife. Why?
Meanwhile Jackson Brodie takes the wrong train and almost dies in a train crash near Edinburgh. Reggie saves his life and then asks him for help. The chance connects Jackson Brodie and Louise Monroe again and the result is a huge relationship tension – it seems both jumped into separate marriages in haste (after they thought the other had chosen someone else) and now question the path they are on especially after their chance encounter.
The prose of Ms Atkinson is plain-spoken, colorful, funny and intelligent even if not at her best here.
Louise, a strong and interesting addition in One Good Turn really comes into her own here, as a likeable although rather pragmatic, introspective, and cynical individual. She and Jackson Brodie are both solid likeable characters even if generally rather unlucky and unhappy. Also Joanna Hunter, a former victim who could overcome her weakness and defend her child was a formidable creation.
Atkinson gets you into their minds as to what they are thinking and feeling with deep character insights and reflections on life, death, sorrow, regrets and losses. I could relate to them no problem.
I enjoyed Atkinson’s prior novels (Case Histories and One Good Turn) and looked forward to her new work. Unfortunately I was disappointed. To tell you the truth this one I consider the weakest so far. When previous books could be compared to a well-kept but intricate mazes, this one comes across as just a melee.
I felt there were too many story lines in the book; some of them managed to converge elegantly while others were underdeveloped and thinly closed out. They also involved far too many coincidences – especially Jackson’s story line was a bit overdone in my humble opinion. All things which happened to him – a second marriage, an bad accident, a search for the missing doctor and her child when he is hardly fit to walk around and drive, meeting with Louise again, losing his identity, losing his wife, losing his money– would have killed off any average person even with military training. As if the author was too afraid to grant him a breather or two. Also Reggie, a teen girl with so many sad experiences she should be at least sixty, and a horrible brother to boot, seemed hardly believable, even less so when she finally got lucky at the end. When you come to think of it almost all characters are written as if they suffer from ADHD – they hardly sleep, they hardly eat, they never relax or rest properly…
Last but not least: I waited in vain for a scene in which Louise and Jackson would finally understand and admit to each other that they cannot be happy living apart. A slow, lovely scene. Their shillyshallying seemed a bit artificial and certainly too prolonged. Perhaps the author wanted to reserve these scenes for the next book but I didn’t enjoy such a move.
The book was still better than any ordinary crime/suspense story but the author had raised the standards so high previously that now somehow she failed to meet them. Pity.