Tuesday, October 27, 2020

One Good Turn: a very short review

For no particularly important reason, I dropped into Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels at book two: One Good Turn

It took me a while to realize that Atkinson follows, at least partly, in the Donald Westlake/Carl Hiaasen/Janet Evanovitch tradition of crime fiction, in which whodunit is certainly part of the goal, but really the sport is all in the malarkey along the way, with eccentric characters at every turn and plenty of mishaps, stumbles, and bumbles on all sides.

It's the sort of book where you get lovely, yet head-spinningly bizarre, passages like these:

"Inspector Brodie," the man said, stepping forward and shaking her hand.

"An inspector calls," Gloria said. She presumed he was a fraud officer, but didn't they hunt in packs? He followed her into the living room. She wished she had kept him on the doorstep, like a Jehovah's Witness. All these unwanted visitors were an unwelcome distraction from the international banking fraud that Tatiana was committing in the kitchen, overseen by Gloria's red KitchenAid and Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course.

"Tea?" Gloria offered politely, trying to remember if he had shown her any ID. Where was his warrant card? He was saying something about road rage when Tatiana glided in from the kitchen and said, "Hello, everybody," like a poor actress in a farce.

Don't get me wrong! This is the sort of breezy reading that I adore, and I drank up every page of Atkinson's absurd story with joy. Set during a random running of the Edinburgh Fringe, the entire book unfolds in 7 chaotic days of nonstop round-the-clock action, and features a missing laptop, a housing-bubble-based organized crime ring, an aging cat, and a play-within-the-play:

The play, Looking for the Equator in Greenland, was Czech (or maybe Slovakian, Jackson hadn't really been listening), an existentialist, abstract, impenetrable thing that was about neither the equator nor Greenland (nor indeed about looking for anything).

One Good Turn suffers a bit from the old problem of "if a little bit is good, a lot must be better". There are too many characters, too many sub-plots, too many absurdities, too many half-developed thoughts tossed into the mix. It's a little bit like that person who thinks that if vodka and tomato juice seem to work well together, why not try adding bacon-wrapped shrimp and some cauliflower?

But that's really just a quibble; this is what you expect from this sort of book, and the reader is gratefully aware that, if one chapter seems to have gone just a bit too far into the deep grass, then simply turn a few more pages and something else will come along.

From what little I know about Atkinson, she had tried her hand at various other fiction categories for a number of years before writing Case Histories and inventing the Jackson Brodie character.

And then discovered that what she had thought was a one-book detour was actually her passion; she's up to five Jackson Brodie novels already, with the most recent one published just a few months ago.

I may just have to try a few more.

1 comment:

  1. Try some Shirley Jackson. We Have Always Lived in the Castle or The Haunting of Hill House, which was voted to have one of the best opening lines of any novel: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.