Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd Jan 2009 from Black Swan
In a quiet corner of rural Devon, a six-year-old girl witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison.
In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie, wise beyond her years, works as a nanny for a G.P. But her employer has disappeared with her baby, and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is a former acquaintance – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.
In anticipation of Atkinson’s new release, Big Sky, due out this week, I thought I would reacquaint myself with Jackson Brodie by re-reading the third in the Brodie series, When Will There Be Good News?
In When Will There Be Good News? the reader is shocked from the outset by the brutal murder of a Devon family – a mother and two of her three children, who are murdered in broad daylight. There is one survivor, the woman’s six year old daughter Joanna, found unharmed.
Andrew Decker, a stranger to the family, was convicted of the heinous crime. Joanna went on to live her life and become a General Practitioner in Edinburgh. She is now married to entrepreneur, Neil and has a young son. 16 year old Reggie Chase is her mother’s helper. Reggie lost her mother in a drowning accident. Her brother is hanging round with the criminal fraternity and Joanna is a mother substitute and role model for Reggie.
Now, 30 years later, Decker is to be released having served his sentence.
Jackson Brodie is working as a private security consultant. Now re-married, his wife Tessa is a museum curator who has gone to New York for a conference. By chance, Brodie boards the wrong train – he meant to go to London but ends up on a train to Edinburgh. There is a bad train crash and Brodie is left seriously injured and it is Reggie who finds him. Also on the train is Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, a previous romantic entanglement of Brodie’s. Louise too has recently married a surgeon and her encounter with Brodie throws up a host of emotions that draw the pair inexorably together. Louise is trying to help Alison Needler, a victim of a violent crime whose nerves are in ribbons and whose husband and attacker is still on the loose, as well as worrying about Decker’s release and investigating a case of arson.
Joanna Hunter goes missing and Reggie is determined to get the police to treat her disappearance seriously. Tenacious, honest, engaging, Reggie is a shining beacon of loyalty in the midst of a host of betrayals around her. It is only Reggie’s insistence that something must have happened to Joanna that finally makes Brodie and Louise take notice.
Atkinson weaves together several plot lines; not all of which end up in a satisfactory resolution. Her main plots though are handled with a sure hand; deftly layered, well tied together and resolved with aplomb.
Atkinson introduces apparently unconnected characters and then cleverly reveals their stories showing how each links to the other through their personal stories. Her characters are brilliantly drawn and so engaging.
She is an emotional storyteller, yet dazzles with her literary references and poetic quotations and this book is both funny and very sharp. She sets out to deliberately obfuscate through a mixture of time changes and sudden interjections of seriously violent events, so that the denouement when it comes is bloody, surprising and quite shocking.
Verdict: Through a myriad of coincidences, this is a book about hope and resilience and the indomitable spirit of those who seek justice; even if they have to break every rule in the book to get it.