Monday, January 19, 2009

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

I think this title seems more like a nonfiction title about politics or the economy than a novel, and the cover--eh. Unprovoking. Unindicative. And because this will come up later, it's worth noting that this is a Jackson Brodie thriller--one of a series. Would you guess that by looking at the cover?

When Will There Be Good News?
is, though, definitely an apropos question for this book. The first chapter ends with murder most foul. Though the description of the murder is artful, impressive and promising, this sets readers up for disappointment in the rest of the book, which doesn't follow through. And everything just keeps getting worse. Accidental deaths. Cruel siblings. A train wreck. Psychotic killers running loose.

It sounds like page-turning goodness, right? And it mostly is, except that every chapter shifts perspective. Sometimes that works. In this book, some of the characters took too long to get tied in to the rest of the plot, and because of the perspective shifts, they took too long to get to know. (As the NY Times review says, it "at times derail[s] the narrative momentum.")

The main characters:
  • Dr. Joanna Hunter, the woman who was the girl who survived the first chapter
  • Reggie, a 16-year-old orphan who takes care of the Hunters' baby boy
  • Louise, a detective obsessed with Dr. Hunter's ability to overcome tragedy and another woman's inability to do the same and who is also desperately insecure in her abilities to be anything other than a cop
  • Jackson Brodie, a former cop who accidentally ends up in Scotland just in time to be part of the action
Louise, who may be the most active of the characters--in a movie version, she'd probably get the most screen time--was also the least impressive. I wouldn't want to spend time in a room with her, though she seems well-liked within the book. Louise makes random eco-aware statements that makes me think Atkinson was determined to keep every single trait she'd devised for Louise*

Reggie was perhaps the most organic, most genuine of the characters--and she was funny. I was disappointed to reach the end of the Reggie chapters because it meant moving on to one of the others. Joanna would have been forgettable if she weren't such a necessary part of the plot. Ironically, Jackson Brodie's part seemed contrived and superfluous.

When Will There Be Good News? begins with promise and doesn't quite follow through, though readers will find themselves determined to find out what happens despite.

* I found Louise's random eco-aware comments very hard to swallow, as well as against the grain of the rest of her character.

Thanks to Little, Brown & Co. for this review copy.


Cathy said...

Your review was very interesting. I've read the other two Jackson Brodie novels that Atkinson has written and loved them--shifting perspectives, multiple plot threads and all. I even liked Louise, who shows up as a character in One Good Turn. Your differing viewpoint has made me want to break my No Buy Books Moratorium and get this one so I can start reading. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

Based on your review, I think will pass on this one. I have enjoyed some of Atkinson's work in the past. Behind the Scenes at the Museum was great, if you haven't already read it, though it was not one of her mysteries. Thanks!

Marg said...

It's interesting to read other reviews about this book. I find that the shifting perspectives do work for me, as you follow separate characters and follow them as their lives are slowly revealed to be connected to other seemingly separate characters.

This was one of my favourite crime reads for last year and I am definitely hoping for at least one more Jackson Brodie book.

Nicole said...

I have her book Cases Histories that I have not yet gotten around to reading. I'm not sure if it is one of those mysteries that you mention but hopefully it will be better than the one that you read.

Daisy Whitney said...

Really great point on the title! It definitely doesn't sound like a novel and questions are hard to make work as titles.

Em said...

I read her first book and really enjoyed it. This one sound interesting, too. I might wait for the paperback though. :)

Annie Wicking said...

Great review! I like your style of reviewing short and to the point.

Too many reviewer of books make the mistake of writing long reviews, which are more boring than reading the book for yourself and making up your own mind.

Best wishes,

Lenore said...

I very much enjoyed Case Histories, but not necessarily for Jackson Brodie.

Cathy said...

Here's a little something for you. You deserve it!

Tricia said...

I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum which I liked but didn't love. I've heard I should try One Good Turn or Case Histories though, so I think I might!