So much more than a crime novel

2010-10-27 00:00

AS a lifelong fan of crime fiction — the ultimate park off and relax reading — I have recently found the genre beginning to pall. Too much of it is the same, too much is predictable and too much pays scant attention to the writing, just piles up the bodies and the grossness. But there are still a few crime writers who make me salivate with anticipation. Kate Atkinson is one.

She started off as a so-called literary writer, but her last three novels have featured the world-weary, ex-army, ex-police, part-time private detective, Jackson Brodie. Over the years, things have not gone well for Jackson. There is a murdered sister, perpetual woman trouble; a fortune inherited and lost; near death experiences; and more. Though, as he says, it all sounds more exciting in summary than living through it.

This time, he is working for a client in New Zealand who was adopted as a child in England and wants to know about her real past. But the strange thing is, all the records seem to have vanished. In Leeds to do some digging, Jackson finds himself almost witness to a peculiar transaction: retired policewoman Tracy Waterhouse, one of the people he should be talking to only he doesn’t know it, makes an impulse buy. And what she buys is a child, being abused by a local prostitute. But the prostitute is going to turn up dead, and Tracy and her mysterious purchase will have to go on the run. Add an elderly actress sliding into dementia, a bunch of ageing cops with secrets to hide, a man maltreating a dog and you have the ingredients for a wonderful, slightly ambiguous novel full of incidents that verge on the surreal.

If crime writing is writing that features crimes, then this is a crime novel. But it is so much more as well. A real treat.

Margaret von Klemperer


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