Book talk: “One Good Turn”

One Good Turn: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
One Good Turn
Kate Atkinson
Back Bay Books, 2007 (ISBN 0316012823)
Fiction, 448 pages

First sentence: He was lost.

Book description: On a beautiful summer day, crowds lined up outside a theater witness a sudden act of extreme road rage: a tap on a fender triggers a nearly homicidal attack. Jackson Brodie, ex-cop, ex-private detective, new millionaire, is among the bystanders.
The event thrusts Jackson into the orbit of the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a washed-up comedian, a successful crime novelist, a mysterious Russian woman, and a female police detective. Each of them hiding a secret, each looking for love or money or redemption or escape, they all play a role in driving Jackson out of retirement and into the middle of several mysteries that intersect in one sinister scheme.

Comments: I really enjoyed Kate Atkinson’s last book, Case Histories, which was the first to feature police detective Jackson Brodie. I couldn’t put it down, I liked how she brought all the threads together, and I looked forward to reading her again.

The events in One Good Turn take place over just a few days, against the backdrop of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Jackson is no longer a police detective; he has inherited a large sum of money and retired to France, but maintains a commuter relationship with Julia, the rather flaky actress he met up with during the investigation in Case Histories. The two of them are in Edinburgh because Julia is in a play at the Festival, but since that’s keeping her busy most of the time, Jackson is on his own when he witnesses a road-rage incident, and again when he discovers a drowned woman’s body (which disappears by the time the police arrive). In fact, Jackson has an alarming tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Atkinson introduces numerous characters and plot threads in the first few chapters, and does a great job bringing them together. I’m actually pretty patient with that sort of thing; I trust that the author knows what she’s doing, that all of these things are somehow connected and relevant (or else they wouldn’t be in the story in the first place), and that eventually I’ll see how it all fits. (I think proof of my patience with this sort of storytelling is the fact that four seasons in, I’m still totally hooked on Lost.) I didn’t find this book as hard to put down as Case Histories, but I think that was at least partly a function of the fact that I read that before my blogging days; I take longer to read most books now. When I was reading it, I was never bored. One thing about Atkinson’s style that appeals to me is her sly, snarky humor, which is generously deployed throughout the book; this is a murder/conspiracy/suspense story, not a comedy, but I found myself snickering quite often while reading it.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I did Case Histories, but it was definitely worth reading, and I’m looking forward to Kate Atkinson’s next book.


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  • Thanks for the review. I am always so picky about mysteries…do not like sloppy plots or loose threads (blame author and editor) and so appreciate personal perspectives. I’m always on the hunt for new ones.

  • Julie – I’d definitely recommend this one, but read Case Histories first.

  • I enjoyed Case Histories quite a bit also and have this one on my shelf to read. I kept putting it off though because so many people said it wasn’t nearly as good as the one that came before. I am glad to know that you enjoyed this one as well (even if not quite as much). That makes me feel better. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great review as always, Florinda!

  • Literary Feline – If you liked Case Histories, you’ll probably like this one too, but you probably don’t have to rush to read it. I think it was funnier – I don’t recall the first one being quite as much sly humor – but the story wasn’t quite as involving.