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Library Journal Review
Edinburgh resident Atkinson has been touted for her clever subversion of the standard family saga (the Whitbread Prize-winning Behind the Scenes at the Museum), as well as her playful parody and magic realism (Not the End of the World). Now she turns her deft hand to the hard-boiled detective genre and wreaks a similarly wonderful havoc. Cambridge P.I. and Francophile Jackson Brodie serves as the link among three interwoven tales. Red herrings abound as Jackson plows through the sad cases of a missing toddler, a young woman brutally killed while temping at her father's law firm, and an overwrought mother driven to ax murder. The relatives of the victims, Jackson's motley clientele, prove to be alternatively pitiable and hilarious but always painfully human. Superfluous plot elements involving attempts on Brodie's life and the running commentary on Brodie's musical tastes may lead to comparisons with Ian Rankin's Inspector John Rebus series, but only briefly, for this is a very new world of old crimes. Recommended for larger fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/04.] Jenn B. Stidham, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In this ambitious fourth novel from Whitbread winner Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum), private detective Jackson Brodie-ex-cop, ex-husband and weekend dad-takes on three cases involving past crimes that occurred in and around London. The first case introduces two middle-aged sisters who, after the death of their vile, distant father, look again into the disappearance of their beloved sister Olivia, last seen at three years old, while they were camping under the stars during an oppressive heat wave. A retired lawyer who lives only on the fumes of possible justice next enlists Jackson's aid in solving the brutal killing of his grown daughter 10 years earlier. In the third dog-eared case file, the sibling of an infamous ax-bludgeoner seeks a reunion with her niece, who as a baby was a witness to murder. Jackson's reluctant persistence heats up these cold cases and by happenstance leads him to reassess his own painful history. The humility of the extraordinary, unabashed characters is skillfully revealed with humor and surprise. Atkinson contrasts the inevitable results of family dysfunction with random fate, gracefully weaving the three stories into a denouement that taps into collective wishful thinking and suggests that warmth and safety may be found in the aftermath of blood and abandonment. Atkinson's meaty, satisfying prose will attract many eager readers. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Nov. 9) Forecast: Blurbs from Rachel Cusk and Jim Crace and elegant, subdued jacket art should remind readers that Atkinson crosses genres, attracting readers of literary fiction as well as thrillers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Like Donna Tartt in The Little Friend0 (2002), 1995 Whitbread winner Atkinson ( Behind the Scenes at the Museum0 ) here combines a compelling narrative drive with sophisticated psychological portraits and telling detail. Artfully exploiting the conventions of the detective novel while also sending them up, Atkinson gives us Jackson Brodie, the world's most empathic private eye, who seemingly channels his clients' grief while attempting to provide closure. Addicted to the plaintive songs of female country-and-western singers and heartsick over the breakup of his marriage and his separation from his daughter, Jackson becomes friend and confidant to the people who seek his aid. One of his cases involves the florid, bickering Land sisters, who, after cleaning out their father's house upon his death, are stunned to find the bedraggled blue bunny that was their sister's most prized possession before she went missing 30 years ago. Another case concerns lonely, obese Theo, who, out of concern for his daughter's safety, insisted that she work in his law office rather than as a bartender, only to find that he put her directly in harm's way. As Jackson methodically tracks down decades-old clues, Atkinson employs omniscient narration to step in and out of crime scenes both past and present. Playful humor, an impressive technique, and an offbeat detective with a penchant for weeping are the most obvious pleasures of a page-turner that succeeds in being both brainy and thoroughly entertaining. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2004 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
After two self-indulgent detours, Atkinson proves that her Whitbread Award-winning debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1996), was no fluke with a novel about three interconnected mysteries. They seem totally unrelated at first to private detective Jackson Brodie, hired by separate individuals in Cambridge, England, to investigate long-dormant cases. Three-year-old Olivia Land disappeared from a tent in her family's backyard in 1970; 34 years later, her sisters Amelia and Julia discover Olivia's stuffed toy in their recently deceased father's study and want Jackson to find out what he had to do with the disappearance. Theo Wyre's beloved 18-year-old daughter Laura was murdered by a knife-wielding lunatic in 1994, and he too hires Jackson to crack this unsolved murder. Michelle was also 18 when she went to jail in 1979 for killing her husband with an ax while their infant daughter wailed in the playpen; she vanished after serving her time, but Shirley Morrison asks Jackson to find, not her sister Michelle, but the niece she promised to raise, then was forced to hand over to grandparents. The detective, whose bitter ex-wife uses Jackson's profound love for their eight-year-old daughter to torture him, finds all these stories of dead and/or missing girls extremely unsettling; we learn toward the end why the subject of young women in peril is particularly painful for him. Atkinson has always been a gripping storyteller, and her complicated narrative crackles with the earthy humor, vibrant characterizations, and shrewd social observations that enlivened her first novel but were largely swamped by postmodern game-playing in Human Croquet (1997) and Emotionally Weird (2000). Here, she crafts a compulsive page-turner that looks deep into the heart of sadness, cruelty, and loss, yet ultimately grants her charming p.i. (and most of the other appealingly offbeat characters, including one killer) a chance at happiness and some measure of reconciliation with the past. Wonderful fun and very moving: it's a pleasure to see this talented writer back on form. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.