Review: “When Will There Be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson


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.

What I liked:

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.

What I didn’t like:

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 final verdict:

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.

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10 Responses to Review: “When Will There Be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    Not a fan of crime/suspense so I will just give this one a miss if you say it is her weakest anyway

  2. anachronist says:

    If you are not fan of this genre do it by all means.

  3. I like the title. It seems to fit the story.

  4. anachronist says:

    The title is nice but the story could have been better told. The previous one was so it was not impossible.

  5. Tracy says:

    I agree with you about the coincidences. The train crash especially (which I misremembered as being in the second book, but it's been a while since I've read this series). I actually thought Reggie's story was more plausible than Jackson Brodie's – people from her background are pretty likely to have horrible families – the word dysfunctional was coined for her type of background. She's unusual because she's intelligent enough to realise the best way to escape, but it means she really doesn't fit in anywhere, not as a child. And she's proof of that old saying that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.As for Louise and Jackson, that'll be dragged out as long as possible.

  6. anachronist says:

    As for Louise and Jackson, that'll be dragged out as long as possible. I can imagine that. I wonder how many pages it will take without boring the readers to death.Reggie's story was more plausible than Jackson Brodie's – people from her background are pretty likely to have horrible families – the word dysfunctional was coined for her type of background.Right. I would prefer Reggie having some anchor who would make her intelligence and survival skills more believable (before she met dr. Hunter that is). I know some incredible individuals can really pull themselves by their bootstraps but well, reality is always stranger than fiction.

  7. Tracy says:

    I'm from the kind of neighbourhood where muggers go round in pairs for safety. It actually got described as one of Britain's no-go areas by one National newspaper many years ago, which amused me. If you're from that kind of background, impoverished, surrounded by crime – our house was broken into four times which meant we were uninsurable, and everyone knew who the criminals were – you have to be pretty tough to survive, especially if you stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is what you do.

  8. anachronist says:

    I'm from the kind of neighbourhood where muggers go round in pairs for safety.Well I see you can relate to the character of Reggie no problem. I come from a different country, though. In my town there are also no-go areas (the closer to the local police station the worse) but it is really rare for people living there to make it to secondary school at all (let alone a posh private secondary school). Even if their fathers were indeed killed by friendly fire while on a mission the Polish Army would never ever pay for the education of their kiddos.

  9. Tracy says:

    Well I see you can relate to the character of Reggie no problem.Up to a point 🙂 It is pretty rare for people from my background to go to University, it's even rarer since New Labour introduced tuition fees and abolished grants. (And New Con/Lib Dem coalition are whacking up the fees even higher! – plus ca change).And yes, I agree that the posh private school is a bit of a leap, even though they all have charitable status in this country (not sure if Scotland differs on that) and therefore they ought to offer some bursaries to enable bright but poor kids to attend, in theory. Now, that's what the Government should do – if these extremely expensive schools want to keep their charitable status, they should have to have a minimum of 30% of their intake from poorer families.

  10. anachronist says:

    There are officially no tuition fees in Poland – at least not if you manage to get a place at a state-sponsored university. It doesn't mean the education is free, though; you still must take lodgings, buy books, food, tickets, copy materials etc. There are also plenty of private unis which are horribly expensive and rather bad when it comes to the education level – an option for dumb but rich kids or for those who don't want to have their nose to the grindstone for most of the time.I didn't know British private schools enjoy charitable status – I guess it's because of taxes.

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