Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 12, 2008

A review of Kate Atkinson – One Good Turn

  A ‘literary detective story’, this book takes us through Edinburgh where we happen to witness a road rage and are subsequently carried along in the lives of those involved in the incident and of those who are somehow related to the witnesses.  Jackson Brodie, an ex-cop, ex-army, ex-private detective and current partner of Julia, happens to leave Julia’s venue ‘just in time to witness a silver Peugeot get shunted by a Honda Civic (a car for losers if ever there was one).’  And so we are in Jackson’s live.  Jackson feels sympathetic towards the Peugeot guy, who is conciliatory but the Honda Man ‘…was a nutter up for a rammy and when he suddenly produced a baseball bat Jackson realised he must have had it with him when he got out of the car.  Premeditated, GBH, the ex-policeman in him was thinking’ (p.63).

                Then someone, Martin, throws a briefcase at the Honda Man and knocks him off balance.  From there on we are carried along in the story, hooked, to find out about each and everyone one involved, and why they are involved.  Jackson’s relationship with Julia, an actress who performs in the Edinburgh Fringe in a play with a ‘small ad hoc group, based in London’, is actually more fragile than he realised.  Gloria is the long-suffering wife of Graham, a crooked builder who has become a multi-millionaire property developer.  The Russian links, the cleaning cum dating agency, everything fits into everything else.  Martin is the boring writer of books that are published in a series about Nina Riley, a detective.  The puns and the tricks of this story are lovely and all the characters slot into their assigned roles, smoothly and believably, we may like them, dislike them, feel sorry for them or hate them, they are real.  The technique of writing in multiple voices helps us move smoothly from one scene to the next, or one day to the next, the story line is the constant and everyone zooms in or out in turn when required and we never lose the thread.  We feel as hapless as Jackson does when he becomes a murder suspect, and we sympathise with Louise, the detective on the case, who fancies Jackson even though she is not sure what role he plays and moreover, she is much more pre-occupied with keeping her son Archie on the straight and narrow, as she loves this only son, fatherless by her choice, to bits. 

                There are added complications, such as the murder of Richard Moat, a dismal opportunist who lives in Martin’s apartment for the simple reason that Martin is unable to say ‘no’ when someone ‘asks a favour’. 

                I don’t want to give away more of the plot of this story and what happens.  It’s a hugely satisfying read and the references to Russian dolls, with part of one character’s story fitting into that of another, are hugely apt.  A great read, especially because Atkinson is such a very good writer.




  1. Ooh. A trusted friend recommended Kate Atkinson and I have “Behind the Scenes and the Museum” and “Human Croquet” on the stack…where should I start?! I’m excited about this author.

  2. Lisa: read them all? 🙂 She’s really good, Atkinson I mean.

  3. Someone listed a list of 100 mysteries/thriller and I only read 3/100. So I’ll have to read more broadly across genres. Literary detective story sounds very appealing. I’ll check this one out. Thanks for the great review. 🙂

  4. This really is a great read, as is everything else by Atkinson I’ve read.

    I’ve got her latest When will there be good news? (the third Brodie book) in the TBR pile and am looking forward to it.

    I don’t know if you saw the interview with her in The Times on the weekend? The link is ttp:// if you missed it. I especially like her comment:
    “People think I don’t like men but I like men as much as I like women. I’d always avoided fully rounded male characters because I didn’t know a fully rounded male psyche, but then I decided that didn’t matter.” !

  5. Matthew: yes, definitely, follow her up – literary detective is much more appealing than simply detective/thriller: Kate Atkinson is an excellent writer. And of course, I’m really glad you liked my review, thanks 🙂
    a devoted reader: I’ve tracked down the link and eventually got to the interview: I had not read it, it’s here:
    and as far as I’m concerned it confirms exactly why I like her writing: there’s no nonsense in it: just the right use of words. And thank you so much for the link, I enjoyed reading this!

  6. Hey, is this a good read or the north American trash I so love to read?????……hehehehehe. I can’t find this one in my library but have requested her earlier one “Case histories”…..will give it a try!

  7. Linda: definitely a good read – enjoy! x

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