Sunday, December 10, 2006

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

This excellent follow-up to Case Histories was well worth waiting for.

One Good Turn centers on a single event and its repercussions. A crowd of people waiting to attend a festival show in Edinburgh one summer watch a fender-bender turn into "road rage" when one of the drivers attacks the other with a baseball bat. By switching perspectives through each chapter, Atkinson shows us how those who took part, those who stood by and watched, and those who tried to help are each affected over the next few days by their decisions. Perhaps most affected is Martin Canning, a quiet writer of bad post-WWII mystery novels who in a rare moment of courage throws his laptop bag at the man with the baseball bat. He soon comes to realize the heavy responsibility of having done a good turn for a stranger. Meanwhile, ex-police detective Jackson Brodie tries to avoid involvement by leaving the scene but finds he's unable to "let go" of what he's seen. Soon he, too, is caught up in the chain of events.

It's an interesting exploration of how the decision to help someone in need of assistance - or not - can impact you. The subplots in this story are cleverly wound together, leading to a seemingly unavoidable meeting between the major players in the story.

One Good Turn is a fine example of the contemporary British crime novel. Sometimes when writers switch genres it really doesn't work (see my commentary on Goodnight Nobody, Jennifer Weiner's attempt at a mystery novel) but in Kate Atkinson's case, while I thoroughly enjoyed her earlier novels (particularly Behind the Scenes at the Museum), I'm very glad she decided to try something new.

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