Kate Atkinson "One Good Turn"

There are certain authors whose books I will buy as they come out (I usually wait for paperback). I do so in the knowledge that I have loved what has gone before and the likelihood is that I will feel the same about their new work. It’s akin to buying music. I adore the Barenaked Ladies, I think that Steven Page and Ed Robertson have gorgeous voices and they write clever, witty songs. They may bring out an album that doesn’t resonate with me as much as a prior one, but it will still be good. I can depend on them. Same is true of my favourite authors. But lately I have been consistently disappointed. I buy a book wanting to love it. I am full of anticipation for this new book by a favourite author. And I am bored, disengaged, and grumpy.

Right now I am reading Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn. It was my treat: a relaxing page turner, a delicious book. I had been looking forward to it since it emerged in hardback last year, having wolfed down Case Histories. I thought highly of Atkinson in the past (“Behind the scenes at the museum” was a fabulous début, unusual, warm, absorbing) but Case Histories interested me because it managed to be both literary and an easy read. A detective mystery with complex twists and well drawn characters. This is a follow on, which revisits Jackson Brodie, the now retired detective. And, to be honest, it’s ploddy. It is cartoonish in its characterisation of a failed comedian, a rep. actress, a mild mannered crime writer, a corrupt business man, foreign escorts, a hired thug and so on. What has happened?
It keeps making me yawn. Really.

And there are some Ben Eltonesque riffs throughout, the same kind of witty musings that appear dotted throughout Catherine Flynn’s “What was lost”. Is there a trend for this or am I only just noticing because I am a grumpy reader right now, all humphs and tsks?

I keep reading the prose and noticing that yes, Atkinson writes well, but there is something missing. Where is the sparkle? Then I wonder if I am merely assuming that because she has written well she still is. Perhaps she has raced through this without customary care. Or is it the wildly implausible plot? I don’t think it can be. I wonder if it is just the wrong time for this book and me.

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