Anyone who has visited here recently will know that I have really enjoyed the first two books in this series, Case Histories and One Good Turn. So I was delighted to get hold of this most recent one, which I bought as a special airport edition (aka trade paperback, if you are in the US) a couple of weeks ago. I finished it last night, and yes, I started it almost two weeks ago. Now, I am a fast reader, and usually if I am loving a book -- and my goodness did I love this one -- I race through it in a day or two at most.But you know what? I loved it so much that I couldn't bear the thought of finishing it, so I forced myself to take it really really slowly.
Set several years after the last one, this novel finds the wonderful ex-soldier, ex-cop, ex-private detective Jackson Brodie seemingly happily settled into a new life, with a new wife, plenty of money, and no need to go on working. But Jackson has his own demons, which never leave him, and a relatively new one is the existence of Nathan, the young son of his ex-lover Julia, who lives in Yorkshire with Julia and her photographer husband, who, she claims, is Nathan's father. But Jackson is convinced that Nathan is his son, and the novel begins as he makes a surreptitious journey to the village where Nathan is at school, and manages (by a typically Jacksonish and rather clumsy maneuver) to remove a few strands of the child's hair for DNA testing. An interesting potential plot-line, you may think -- but you will wait a long time to see what the outcome of this is. For something completely different is in store for Jackson. Getting lost on the moors, problems with the car, taking the wrong train -- fate seems to have pushed him along an increasingly darkening path until a train crash in Edinburgh almost ends his life for good. Meanwhile his friend, Detective Inspector Louise Monroe, has also married, not very happily, to a man who is, essentially, far too good and kind, and who brings out her worst, angriest, most rebellious side. Events bring these two together and it is clear that a powerful bond still exists between them.
As with both the earlier books in this series, there are several complexly interwoven lines of plot. One concerns a young woman doctor Joanna Hunter. Successful, married, with an adored new baby, living in a delightful house and apparently happy with her life, Joanna has an appalling secret in her family history -- as a small child, she witnessed the horrific and motiveless murders of her mother, sister and baby brother by a young psychopath, and only managed by chance to escape with her own life. Now, after serving thirty years in prison, the man is due to be released. How will Joanna be affected? Hard to say, as she speaks to no-one about these things, not even to young Reggie (Regina), the sixteen-year-old girl who helps with baby-sitting while studying for her A-levels. Highly intelligent, well read, sweet and funny, Reggie has been forced to leave the posh school where she was a scholarship pupil after the sudden death of her mother, and is struggling to study the classics on her own, coached by a dotty ex-teacher who has taken up a peculiar brand of religion. If that were not enough, Reggie's life is dogged by her criminal brother Billy, who appears unexpectedly from time to time with various unpleasant and scary threats. Reggie is a wonderful character, the only one who really has a clear view of what is really going on -- Atkinson has described her as the moral centre of the book. Fate -- yes, fate again -- brings all these people into contact with each other, with often surprising results -- you will have to read the novel to see what these are.
For me, I think this was the best of the three novels in this remarkable trilogy. It is certainly the darkest, though often very funny, and the most allusive, I think, in a literary sense. Many things are left unresolved at the end of the novel and I really do hope that Kate Atkinson is not going to be so cruel as to finish the series with this book. You can hear an interview with her, in which she talks about the novel and about her writing technique and her future plans here.