Case Histories

By Kate Atkinson; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Six years before Kate Atkinson published her brilliant literary novel LIFE AFTER LIFE, she introduced Jackson Brodie, a 45-year-old private investigator who feels “much, much older” to the world.

CASE HISTORIES is the first of five books featuring the delightful, beleaguered Brodie.

A one-time policeman turned private investigator, Brodie has a daughter he adores, an ex-wife who seems hell-bent on making his life difficult and an effective and efficient office manager who can’t understand why he isn’t more business-like in selecting clients.

He drives “a black Alfa Romeo 156 that he’d bought secondhand four years ago for £13,000 and that was now probably worth less than the Emmelle Freedom mountain bike that he had just given his daughter for her eighth birthday (on the proviso that she didn’t cycle on the road until she was at least forty).”

Before readers ever get to meet Brodie, Atkinson presents the case histories:

  • Missing three-year-old Olivia Land, who was camping out in the backyard with her sister one hot summer night and disappeared.
  • Laura Wyre, a beloved daughter murdered mid-day in her father’s law office.
  • Keith Fletcher, whose wife Michelle split his head open with an axe because he woke up Tanya the baby. Tanya disappears into the foster care system until her aunt Shirley claims she wants her back.

Brodie himself is a case history that Atkinson reveals throughout the book: the mother who died when he was a child; the older sister Niamh who was assaulted and murdered; the older brother Francis who committed suicide because he should have met Niamh at the bus stop that rainy day and didn’t.

These are cold cases, most unsolved, and the one apparently solved wasn’t solved correctly.  All nearly impossible for Jackson to solve now. (Note readers, the word “nearly.”)

This book isn’t so much a police procedural as it a study of the deep and lingering effects of loss on individuals and families.

Brodie is besieged by other cases as they come up. His very first client, the haughty Binky Rain, more than 90 and the widow of a Cambridge philosophy don, is continually calling him to find a cat lost from her collection of dozens. She lives next door to the Lands. In the two years, she’s been calling Brodie, she’s never paid him and has no qualms about calling him again and again and again no matter what the time of day.

Brodie is handsome and attractive to women (but rarely ones who are good for him). He’s world-wise but not cynical. He has a warm heart and is an easy touch for someone suffering impossible losses and searching for answers.

CASE HISTORIES (2007) was followed by:

  • ONE GOOD TURN (2004)
  • BIG SKY (2019)

The books were used as the basis for a television series starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. It premiered June 5, 2011 on BBC1 in the United Kingdom and on PBS five months later in the United States. It can now be viewed on Britbox and BBC online.

The Author: Kate Atkinson, MBE (1951 – )

Kate Atkinson was a 44-year-old single mother of two when she published her first novel, BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM, in 1995.

She’d been working as a tutor, a home health aide and a chambermaid, among other jobs. Her novel won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize, beating out the writer everyone believed would win, Salman Rushdie.

Married twice, she met both of her husbands at the University of Dundee where she was studying. She had a daughter by each. She earned a master’s degree in English literature in 1974 and then started working on a doctorate. She failed her oral exam, although the university offered her an honorary doctorate in 2006. (She declined, saying she’d rather have the real degree she wasn’t given.)

Her doctorate had been on the history of the short story, which stood her in good stead as she learned to be a novelist.

In addition to the Whitbread, she has also won the Costa Best Novel Book Award for LIFE AFTER LIFE and A GOD IN RUINS. WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? was a finalist for the CWA Gold Dagger. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to literature in 2011.


She currently lives in Edinburgh and writes full-time.


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