Kate Atkinson novels are constructed like a jigsaw puzzle. Until you get to the end, you are never quite sure how the pieces are going to fit together. The characters are the pieces of the puzzle, and the trick is in trying to figure out how, even though the pieces are far apart, they’re going to become part of a whole by the end.
“When Will There Be Good News?” continues the remarkable string of Atkinson triumphs that began with the magnificent “Case Histories” and continued with the outstanding “One Good Turn.” Like the first two books, one of the featured characters is Jackson Brodie, but here he is in a distinctly supporting (although critically important) role. Technically, you would have to call Atkinson’s books mysteries, but consider this: this is a story, at least in part, about a woman and child who are missing. And it is on Page 285 that Jackson Brodie is engaged to try and find the mother and daughter. That’s not what you would call your typical mystery.
There are two things that Atkinson does in each of her books that are just brilliant. One, she creates characters that are believable, sympathetic, and have depth. In “Good News,” there are at least four – Brodie, of course; but also Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe (who reminds one just a bit of Jane Tennyson, from “Prime Suspect”), Dr. Joanna Hunter, and perhaps most of all, 16-year old Reggie, the young woman who instinctively knows what is going on before anyone else has a clue.
The other thing that Atkinson does so brilliantly is to capture the reader from the very first chapter, in this instance with a snapshot of abject terror, as a young mother is out walking with her children. A strange man appears, and as Atkinson writes, “Everything was bad. There was no question about it.” That scene sets the stage for everything that follows, years later. And when the pieces of the puzzle finally come together at the end, the payoff is well-earned and entirely satisfying.
If you haven’t read a Kate Atkinson book, now is as good a time as any to start.