Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

I had the weirdest experience with this book.

I downloaded it as an e-book from the library. Having read most of Kate Atkinson’s books other than the Jackson Brodie mysteries, I was ready to jump into this series with Case Histories, the first book. I knew Atkinson to be a writer who expects readers to be smart and to pay attention. The story gripped me immediately, with a compelling incident that made me care about the main character and want to read on. Then, there was a huge jump forward in time, same character in a scene decades later that assumed a lot of knowledge about the character’s present-day life. Okay, I thought, I can keep up. As I read on, the author is throwing lots of names and information at me without any explanation or backstory — but it’s OK, I thought. It’s all going to be revealed as the story unfolds.

Remember, this is a mystery. And in this confusing second chapter with all the names and things to keep track of, at least a part of the mystery seems to be solved already. With the implication that we were supposed to know and care about these characters, who have only just been introduced. I’m confused by now, but hanging in there, because the writing is great and I trust Kate Atkinson.

What I shouldn’t have trusted was my own ability to open the e-book without accidentally brushing my finger across the table of contents page.

I had started the book, not at Chapter One, but at Chapter Twenty. Of twenty-eight. I read chapters twenty and twenty-one before I realized I was not at the beginning of the book.

I went back and started at the beginning, and wow, everything made so much more sense! (though a few things were spoilered for me).

Once I started at the right place, I realized Case Histories is indeed a tightly-woven, character-driven mystery — really, several interwoven mysteries, some of which get more fully resolved than others — by a writer who does trust her readers to be smart and put the pieces together. But not so smart that you can skip the first 19 chapters and expect to know what’s going on.

I’ll be reading the rest of the series, but I hope to start each book at the beginning.

note: Looking back at my own reviews of Atkinson’s books, I see that I claim to have read (but not reviewed, because it was before I started this book blog) Case Histories back when it originally came out. I have NO recollection of this — not from Chapter One or Chapter 20 or any of the others. I guess some books really do get wiped from memory!! I did enjoy this apparently second read-through, though.

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Filed under Fiction -- mystery

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