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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Case Histories. Kate Atkinson. Black Swan (2004)

An interesting mix of a book that does not quite catch fire. Jackson Brodie, an ex-policeman now private investigator working in Cambridge becomes somewhat haphazardly involved in three case histories. The first and most significant is the disappearance of a very young girl from the garden of her home. Decades later two of her sisters find her favourite toy in their recently deceased father's desk. They hire Jackson to investigate Olivia's disappearance. The second case is the 10 year old murder of a young woman in her father's office. Theo, Laura's father is determined to understand why his daughter was killed and hires Jackson to find out. The third case involves a young woman who murdered her husband, her sister hires Jackson to find the woman's daughter. The cases snake around each other without connecting, the reveals are nicely staged and the conclusion is generous and compassionate.
This story is a character drama for crime fiction fans and a crime story for character drama fans, it balances both very well without quite developing into a forceful,unified entity. The murders at the heart of the three case studies are smart and thoughtful and they do propel the drama in an effective fashion. The long echo from the disappearance of the young girl and the murder of Theo's daughter on the survivors is acutely drawn. The criminal element is much more muted in the third case and feels somewhat unfinished,the drama is considerably sharper and significantly more unkind to the cast.
The cast are given plenty of room to breathe and develop, they do not quite come off the page. They feel constrained by the framework of the violent actions that have marked them, at the same time the investigations lacks the force and focus to drive the narrative. All of the major characters are facing profound challenges which are forcing them into changes and choices they would rather avoid. The strength of the book is the way these changes are used to reveal the cast, the wide spread of focus within the book means it does not quite get to grips enough with any one thread to really engage the reader.

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