I’m a snob when it comes to good writing, so when it comes to crime fiction, I’m in the camp of PD James, not Steig Larsson. So stumbling upon Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News? — a beautifully written novel that slowly reveals itself to be a mystery (and even part of a series! Hooray!) — was a real pleasure.
Set in a modern Edinburgh that is equal parts upscale and down at heel, this engaging, fascinating, funny book is a kaleidoscope of narrative and story. Brilliant bits seen from various points of view are constantly juxtaposed, creating patterns that fold in on themselves, then reform to make new illusions. A few plot holes might drive quibblers crazy, but overall it’s a subtle, wry, intriguing masterpiece of action and observation. The series (Case Histories and One Good Turn were the first two, and coming up later this year is a fourth, Started Early, Took My Dog) features a pair of crime-novel characters who are stock but nonetheless well written: the sparring, tortured and romantically involved-or-not Detective Inspector Louise Monroe and private investigator Jackson Brodie. But for my money the heroine of When Will There Be Good News? is plucky, secretive, put-upon, ironic 16-year-old Reggie, “an orphan of the parish.” Her bravery, intelligence and doggedness makes Scout Finch look like a whiny little wuss. I admit I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series… and did I mention that Atkinson’s 1995 novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Prize? Stay tuned.
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, $13.99. Available at Vroman’s, Apostrophe Books, Flintridge Bookstore and other local booksellers.