One Good Turn starts with what appears to be a chance collision and a violent act of road rage. But somehow the people involved and the people who bear witness to this event will find themselves caught in an ever tightening whirlpool of fate that draws them together and simultaneously deeper and deeper into a game of violence, death and corruption. Jackson Brodie is back from Case Histories; this is Atkinson’s second book about the retired detective. But the ensemble is large and Atkinson has invested all of them with life. There’s the weary crime novelist who wishes he could write some thing better than the genre fare he’s been turning out; there’s the police detective struggling to put the pieces together and also be a decent single mother to her delinquent teenage son; there’s the bitter comedian attempting a come-back after a decade of flops and failures; there’s the wife of a cheating, comatose, corrupt real-estate magnate; there’s the Russian prostitute in over her head with a mysterious organization called Favours. And then there’s that hulking man with the baseball bat. Let’s not forget him. This book is really astoundingly great. It moves like a thriller and the plot twists are often genuinely jaw dropping. But the characterizations and writing style is at the level of literary masterpiece. Atkinson is, with her Jackson Brodie series, trying to prove that it’s possible to craft a work that functions to perfection as both a genre piece and a piece of high literature and to the degree that Case Histories already proved it, One Good Turn just takes both elements up a notch in my opinion. This is both a better mystery thriller and a more compelling piece of character based literature. This is a great book, no question and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’ll keep you alternately guessing at the mystery, laughing out loud at the humor and feeling the real pain of the characters. In a bibliography filled with genius, Atkinson has crafted a novel that stands out, even among giants. 4 stars.
tl;dr – shocking plot twists and an impenetrable mystery meet deeply evocative character-based drama in this novel, a meditation on the interconnectedness of our violence, pain-filled lives. 4 stars.