What did you do when the worst thing that could happen to you had already happened – how did you live your life then? You had to hand it to Theo Wyre, just carrying on living required a kind of courage that most people didn’t have.
Case Histories is the first novel by Atkinson to feature Jackson Brodie, a retired police officer struggling to deal with his ex-wife, form a bond with his young daughter and run a private detective agency. This book opens with a series of seemingly disconnected violent acts and then leaps ahead to the present to let us see how the survivors of these violent moments have moved on (or not) with their lives. And then Jackson finds himself involved with all three of the cases that opened the book. Atkinson creates a series of really indelible characters here, not least of all Brodie, a compellingly weary and tragic figure. The book is both an in-depth literary novel and a gripping mystery-thriller. There are surprises aplenty in the plot twists, but the book cuts deeper than a typical genre read. The book unflinchingly explores grief and the way it can stay unresolved and unhealed for years or decades even. It’s a book rich in theme. In one of the cases, a young girl vanishes in the middle of the night, without a trace to be found, even decades later; in another a young woman is brutally murdered in what appears to be a random act of violence. In another, a young girl disappears and then reappears dead. The book is very much about violence against women, but it’s also about the failure of masculinity. Jackson is a good man, a man tormented by tragedy in his past and driven by that torment to dedicate his life to trying to save these women or find them, whatever they need. There’s the grieving sister of the vanished girl, the murdered woman, Jackson’s own daughter, his own sister and so many more. This isn’t the book for you if you demand that your novels have neat and tidy endings, but it’s a masterpiece in my opinion. It’s a deep and rich book in theme and character study, but it’s also an immaculately plotted mystery. Atkinson’s done it again, bouncing back from her weak foray into short story writing with a magnificent, haunting, deeply sad, deeply beautiful novel about the people we lose in life and the efforts we put forth to fill those voids. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series starts with a masterpiece in this beautiful and thematically rich exploration of loss that functions brilliantly as a mystery-thriller as well. 4 stars.