Friday 19 December 2008

When will there be good news?

I’ve read some terrific novels this year, but I recently finished the best of all. I’ve not read Kate Atkinson’s earlier books about Jackson Brodie, an ex cop turned p.i., but my agent Mandy Little said she thought I’d find something in common between my concerns and interests as a writer and Atkinson’s, and sent me her copy of When Will There Be Good News?

The first thing to say is that Mandy’s comments were flattering, because I really admired the quality of Atkinson’s writing. There is something about her sense of humour that really appeals to me; hers is a very British type of wit, and I’m not sure that it will appeal as much to readers from overseas, but I’d guess they would relish the excellence of her characterisation as much as I did. Reggie, the young heroine of the story is one of the most appealing people I’ve encountered in a crime novel for many years. Louise, the tough cop with an apparently perfect marriage to a genuinely nice guy, but a sneaking devotion to Jackson, is equally well drawn. And Jackson himself, tough, charismatic yet very human, is a first rate central figure.

The story-line is complex. The starting point is a terrible crime, 30 years ago, which bears superficial resemblances to a tragic real-life murder case. The ramifications of that crime in the present day are what fascinate Atkinson. It needs to be said (and I know many reviewers have said it) that the story is massively dependent on a string of coincidences. But the same is true of much of the best work of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. Almost all crime writers write stories that involve coincidence (I certainly do) but the best can get away with a whole string of coincidences, because the quality of their work enables a very willing suspension of disbelief.

Atkinson is regarded as a literary novelist rather than a crime writer, but who cares about categories? I’ve read at least half a dozen books this year that I’d describe as masterly, but this is the most enjoyable novel of all.


Kerrie said...

Martin, I also enjoyed this book. I think she broke a few rules, but really it didn't matter. I think many people have tried to read it too quickly.

harriet said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed this -- now you must read the other two! These are all spectacularly good crime novels, though I think this third one is perhaps the best of the lot.

Deb said...

I'm reading it right now. I read Case Histories - it is excellent.

Ali Karim said...

I have had this for a looooongggggg time on the TBR and is packed for my Christmas read as everyone is raving about it, including Stephen King -

Thanks for the reminder


Martin Edwards said...

Kerrie, thanks for the link to your review.
Harriet - will do!
Deb - good to hear from you.
Ali - you will not be disappointed - and I really must catch up with Stieg Larsson over the holiday season!

Lourdes said...

Several other people whose opinion I value have commented that this was one of their top reads this year. I really must get to it soon!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Lourdes. I really didn't know what to expect with this book, and wasn't sure I'd like it, but it really gripped me. I agree with those who say it's worth lingering over, to appreciate the nuances fully.