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Saturday, September 6, 2008

When Will There Be Good News? (hardcover, $24.99), by Kate Atkinson

Even though I’ve read Atkinson’s other books featuring Jackson Brodie, erstwhile Edinburgh police inspector, I’m still amazed and surprised by the gimmick she has used in each: intertwining seemingly unrelated stories. Coincidence should be the subtitle of each, and Atkinson is the master of creating coincidences that stretch the reader’s imagination but don’t expose his gullibility.

Beginning with Case Histories and continuing on to One Good Turn, Jackson Brodie appears almost as a subsidiary character. He ties all the internal stories together, but he is not the main focus. There is always a heart-tugging tale of loss and renewal at the center, and this is what I treasure about Atkinson’s works.

When Will There Be Good News? is an appropriate title because the various stories must spiral down before we can even hope for good news. Dr. Joanna (“call me Jo”) Hunter and her mother’s helper, resourceful 16-year-old Reggie, become victims of other people in their lives. When she was a child, most of Hunter’s family was slain by a serial killer. Now his jail term is up and release is imminent. In addition, her husband seems vague and unworthy. Reggie’s mother has died recently, leaving Reggie an orphan, with only a miscreant of a brother for family. When Reggie cannot contact Dr. Hunter, she enlists the help of Brodie, who is unwittingly on his own downward spiral of bad news.

It is difficult to write about this novel without giving away any of the twists and turns it takes. The reader certainly will take joy at how the convoluted lines unwind at the end. Let me simply add that the writing shines, the humor is subtle, and Dickens couldn’t have done better by Reggie.

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