I freely admit that when CASE HISTORIES got the vote as our inaugural "Read This!" pick, I was overjoyed. This is a novel that's had a special place in my heart since I read it last November. As a crime fiction enthusiast, I marvelled at how Atkinson thoroughly understood the genre conventions and usual tropes while breaking the inherent constraints to do as she pleased. But unlike many a writer who decides, on a whim, to try his or her hand at "that mystery business," Atkinson never condescended, never looked down upon the form.
Which is only to be expected from someone who named Lee Child as one of her favorite crime writers, as she did in an interview she gave to Publishers Weekly last year.
But how did she accomplish something that has failed so many others "slumming"? To my mind, there are several reasons. First, she didn't try to reinvent the wheel. Jackson Brodie is an angst-ridden PI who has an unfortunate tendency to get himself knocked about by unknown assailants while letting his heart rule his head more often than not, and Atkinson cheerfully uses these tropes to best advantage, almost winking at them. Yes, she seems to say, I must make use of them, but I'm having so much fun as I do so.
Then there's the sheer talent displayed in her writing. The prose is crisp and clean, full of humor but at times utterly devastating. CASE HISTORIES is a detective story, but what it ultimately uncovers is the level of loss, grief and confusion that holds each character in a seemingly inescapable vise. And yet, Atkinson portrays such themes without pretension; instead she simply lets them develop naturally, almost deceptively so. Because obviously a lot of care and thought was put into each character, each story told, but it never feels anything but easy.
And ultimately that is what makes the book such a marvel, that it seems so easy, so readable. But it offers up so many hidden delights that make it accessible on so many levels. As a detective story, yes it works fine. But why enjoy it simply as such when there are many other ways to do so?