One Good Turn

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One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery - Kate Atkinson, book review“Matryoshka is the word of the day”, says one of the characters in One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, her second crime novel to feature Jackson Brodie. And the structure of the book does seem to take its lead from the Russian nesting dolls which crop up from time to time throughout the story. I tend to like books with a strong structure, and certainly Atkinson adopts one here; she is playing with the form of the crime novel, although not to the detriment of either plot or character development.

One Good Turn picks up Jackson Brodie about two years after the end of Case Histories. He is visiting Edinburgh during the festival along with his actress girlfriend, who is performing in a play. Brodie is important in this book, but other characters matter at least as much. Martin Canning is an unprepossessing crime novelist who leads a quiet life and writes old fashioned books with happy endings, not too much violence and no sex. If anything, he seems less exciting than his books, but he harbours a dark secret, which is gradually revealed throughout the book, just as if we are working our way through a set of Matryoshka. Gloria Hatter is the wife of Graham Hatter, a rich and unscrupulous property developer whose misdeeds appear to be catching up with him. She has lived a pampered but lonely life, vaguely aware of his true nature but choosing to turn a blind eye to most of it. These two characters are on course to meet, and a range of thugs, assassins and Russian Gangsters will play a role along the way. Meanwhile, Brodie continues his troubled personal life, and will also be present at the denouement.

“Kate Atkinson remains at the top of her form and has written another excellent and entertaining novel.”

Each chapter of One Good Turn contains within it the seed for the following chapter. Sometimes, as in Case Histories, the same events are told from the perspective of different characters. However, in this case the linkages are sometimes more subtle, though it is difficult not to be aware that Atkinson has a set of Russian Dolls in mind as she is writing. Each of the key characters has a distinctive voice, and one of the strengths of this book is her ability to capture them so well, through use of small and apparently casual details. The gradual revealing of the truth, which continues until the very last sentence of the book, should be enough to keep any reader engrossed.

I tend to be suspicious of books where one of the main characters is an author. I always worry that it is a sign of a writer running out of creative steam. However, there is no sign whatsoever of that in this case. Kate Atkinson remains at the top of her form and has written another excellent and entertaining novel. One Good Turn is a book which successfully combines the best of literary and crime fiction – highly recommended.

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One Good Turn
by Kate Atkinson

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Written by Ian

Ian is a medical academic with a long standing interest in books, particularly literary and crime fiction, as both a reader and a collector. He has published extensively in the scientific literature, mainly on nutrition. He has two grown-up children and lives in Ireland.

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