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by Kate Atkinson
Back Bay Books, September 2007
448 pages
ISBN: 0316012823

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kate Atkinson is one of those mainstream novelists who's pootled along to play in the genre fiction pool and I'm pleased to report she's made a better job of it than some of those who appear to think that writing crime fiction is a piece of cake.

ONE GOOD TURN sits very squarely in the character-driven camp. The plot is perfectly serviceable, but what keeps the reader engrossed is the weird and wonderful cast who parade in front of us most of them just this side of barking mad!

For the first 100 or so pages, you'll probably wonder if this is in fact a crime novel. Then suddenly you're in freefall as the beleaguered characters just about avoid the 'One Damn Thing on Top of Another' syndrome. Atkinson, whose BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM, won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year award, has an eye for the eccentric. So while there's a strange road rage attack early on, it takes a while for the murder mystery to unfold.

Our hero is ostensibly Jackson Brodie, a policeman-turned-PI-turned gentleman of leisure (inheriting a millionaire quid does wonders for one's lifestyle!) He's up in Edinburgh with girlfriend Julia, who's appearing in a rather dodgy play at the festival. Jackson witnesses the road rage incident, but he's just one of a number of characters who Atkinson introduces early on.

There's Martin, a reclusive but successful crime novelist, whose house has been invaded by the house guest from hell, a washed-up stand-up comedian. Then there's Gloria, whose husband is a shady property developer. And Louise, a detective, has the hormonal teenage son from hell. Add to this some mysterious Russian women, and you'll wonder how Atkinson will ever pull the threads together.

She does do, though, and pretty gracefully in the circumstances. But aside from the way she captures perfectly the madness of Edinburgh at festival time, ONE GOOD TURN is hit over the head and abducted by its cast! And Atkinson has a wonderfully light hand when it comes to telling her story.

The only downside is the tiresome and seemingly random Americanising of some of the spellings. It seems a pointless exercise in a book where there is a certain and necessary amount of Scottish references. Why bother to alter the spelling of cheque and favour when you have regional expressions like "a poke of chips." You know, I managed to work out for myself what that meant, and I'm sure American readers can do the same.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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