Reading Atkinson’s Case Histories is like watching a master weaver perform magic, the kind of artistry that creates a stunning piece of work from disparate pieces. Just as the fabric artist pulls together threads of many colors to form a discernible pattern Atkinson combines strands of several stories into a single cohesive narrative.
The book opens with the heartbreaking profile of the Lands: mother, father, four sisters – a trio of girls followed by Olivia the youngest and the best loved. Tragedy strikes, and then the next chapter introduces a new story. Before we learn how the first is resolved, we meet the players in two more family tragedies.
Detective Jackson Brodie is the gold thread, the leitmotif that moves through the three tales and connects the elements. Brody is a detective burdened with an unhappy childhood and the weight of his sister’s untimely death by drowning, a man plagued by thwarted relationships with women who is struggling with a divorce and figuring out how to be a good father to his difficult daughter, a man thrust into the decade-old mystery of what happened to the Lands and to the other principles as well. In eloquent prose, Atkinson takes on the long winding trail that Brody must trod as he follows the threads to the solution, weaving a complex picture of painful intensity.