Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One Good Turn

That One Good Turn does not always lead to another is a harsh fact of life that several of Kate Atkinson’s characters learn the hard way in this, her second Jackson Brodie novel. Their experience is, in fact, more one of no good deed going unpunished.

None of the festival crowd trying to negotiate the streets of crowded Edinburgh is quite prepared for the case of road rage unfolding in front of it over what is, after all, only a very minor traffic incident. One driver, though, emerges with baseball bat in hand and seems anxious to start swinging it. As the violence escalates, some members of the crowd, including Jackson Brodie, ex-policeman and retired private detective, are moved to do the right thing, choices that do not go unnoticed by the maniac with the baseball bat.

Upon the arrival of the authorities, the crowd quickly breaks up and all the witnesses go their own way with the exception of Martin Canning, a rather effeminate writer of throwback mysteries, who accompanies the road rage victim on an ambulance ride to the hospital. A Kate Atkinson novel is never simple, though, and when the psychopathic driver decides to hunt down the witnesses to his road rage, Atkinson begins to juggle half a dozen plotlines that seem, at first, to have little to do with one another. Atkinson develops each plotline on its own, fully developing her characters along the way and, as she did in Case Histories, gradually overlaps the characters to tell a story bigger than the sum of its parts.

Atkinson peoples One Good Turn with a colorful assortment of characters, all of whom will have their lives changed forever because of a random traffic accident that has nothing to do with any of them. Jackson Brodie, feeling a bit emasculated by all the money he inherited from a former client, is in the city because Julia, also from Case Histories, is there to perform in a festival play. Gloria, wife of sleazy homebuilder and thug Graham Hatter, witnesses the accident while on an outing with a flighty friend of hers. Newly promoted police detective Louise Monroe learns that her 14-year-old son and his friend were thrilled by the violence they witnessed. Throw a few illegal alien Russian women, a circus, a mistaken-identity murder, a dumb-as-a-post psychopath, and a disappearing drowning victim into the mix and things tend to get a bit wild.

Be advised that, as usual in a Kate Atkinson novel, the reader must pay strict attention to all the characters and their goings-on in order to appreciate the intricate plot that Atkinson weaves. No snoozing allowed.

I thoroughly enjoyed One Good Turn but Atkinson does stretch “coincidence” to its breaking point often enough that I have to limit its rating to four stars.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Sam,

    Check the previous post. I left you a message.

  2. I agree with you about Atkinson - you really have to be on your toes, and be prepared for a lot of flipping back and forth to help you tie all the plot strings together. And some coincidences are very coincidental! But I like her too!

  3. I've ordered up her third book in the series now and I can't wait to start it. I'm definitely a Kate Atkinson fan.