New(ish) Crime Writers, part 2

by Harry on November 23, 2015

Ok, here’s the second in my series on new-ish crime writers. This one might well already have hung up her boots – if so, it’s tragic. I twice tried to read that Behind the Scenes in the Museum book, and just couldn’t get anywhere with it. Then, in response to a much earlier thread, Jerry Dworkin suggested Case Histories, and then someone else did, and then my Monkees-appreciating neighbor did, but he actually had the book so… Well, that was it for several weeks. Kate Atkinson’s 4 Jackson Brodie books are, taken together, a single masterpiece of the genre. Each book weaves together two or more crimes, the connections between which are far from obvious, and in some cases just a matter of them crossing Brodie’s path. She is Hardyesque in both her complete lack of fear of, and her mastery of the art of, coincidence and her willingness –indeed her determinedness – to strain credulity, and Brodie is tough, lovable, screwed up, a little bit hard to take. Her writing is sublime – I can’t think of any crime writer who is better able to sustain suspense by taking you down an alleyway that you cannot imagine the point of – and which is far longer than seems appropriate – just where you are dying to see the next plot twist. She adores Brodie, but she also adores and crafts her other characters – Gloria in One Good Turn, and Reggie in When Will There Be Good News? are both brilliant inventions. As unafraid as she is of coincidence, she’s even less afraid of long digressive sentences, paragraphs, pages, even chapters. She’s a genius. Maybe we should have a ‘Kate Atkinson paragraph” competition closer to Christmas – if so, CB’s assignment is to do Kate Atkinson in the style of Molesworth.

So: two warnings and a tip.

Warning 1: I nearly put down Case Histories after a couple of chapters. One of the cases is so harrowing and gross that if you don’t trust her (I didn’t) you think she is coldly misanthropic. Trust me, you can trust her, she’s not.

Warning 2: once you are 1/3 of the way into Case Histories you won’t want to read anything else till you’ve finished all 4.

Tip: as with all good series you should read these in order. But, if for some reason you can’t, you can get away with starting with One Good Turn, as long as you then go straight back to Case Histories, and only then onto When Will there Be Good News (I know because my daughter ran out of reading during the trip in which I finished When will There be Good News?; I happened to have One Good Turn with me so she read that first, and it was, just about, ok).



Bloix 11.23.15 at 6:16 pm

have you seen the Case Histories television adaptation? The acting is good and Brodie – played by Jason Isaacs – is just as you’ve described him.


Phil 11.23.15 at 7:38 pm

I picked up & put down Behind the Scenes… a couple of times; it starts *very* slowly. The trick is to just keep reading – it drags you in soon enough.

I love almost everything KA has written – still not quite sure about A God In Ruins; I may need to re-read it – but I think my favourite is her second novel, Human Croquet; it’s sort of Behind the Scenes crossed with Case Histories. No, wait – my favourite has to be Life After Life; all her books have that quality of making you feel you couldn’t imagine reading anything else while you’re reading them, but with Life After Life I still felt like that after I’d finished it. And my second favourite is Not The End of the World, a really wonderful collection of short stories – like Alasdair Gray with a heart, or a melancholic Joan Aiken. But Human Croquet is not to be missed.

(Also, the Brodie books are excellent. But even Case Histories can only be my fourth favourite of hers.)


Bloix 11.23.15 at 7:52 pm

PS – I took your advice and read the two William Shaw books and I’m glad I did.


mrearl 11.23.15 at 8:25 pm

Read a Jackson Brodie on the wife’s recommendation, which is usually a good omen. I don’t even remember the title, so underwhelmed I was. As I recall, this delve into the “newish” began by invoking Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and Reginald Hill. If that trio is bronze, silver, and gold, Ms. Atkinson is tin.


Trader Joe 11.23.15 at 9:11 pm

I’ll add Ms. Atkinson to my list.

My hearty thanks to whomever (and I think it was several) recommended Tana French in the prior thread….have buzzed through her entire opus since then and have enjoyed every word.


Harry 11.24.15 at 12:46 am

I haven’t seen the TV. Until yesterday (literally yesterday) my policy was to read the book first then watch the TV (unless I had reason to think the book wasn’t worth reading — Morse, eg). But I’m in the middle of aJimmy Perez, which I heard dramatized a few years ago, and realised that there is so much more in the book that hearing it first was fine, whereas reading it first would spoil the radio (or TV).

Ha — Tana French is next!

The last William Shaw comes in the spring!


Peter Hovde 11.24.15 at 12:54 am

Appreciate the tip, and echo on French (I think you had already indicated she was on the list). Speaking of when to start series, do you have a suggested point to break into the Dalziel/Pascoe books? I’ve read the last two, but I understand the series wasn’t so great at the beginning.


Alan White 11.24.15 at 1:06 am

Ok I’m vouching for both TV Morse and Dexter Morse. Can’t think of another instance of an author who seems to have killed off a text fictional character in tribute to a media fictional character. (I know, I know; the connection of Thaw’s death to Morse’s is just circumstantial–but I bet Dexter knew about Thaw’s cancer since they were close friends.) Anyway, the TV series made me read the books, and I liked them.


Harry 11.24.15 at 2:27 am

Dalziel/Pascoe –start with Underworld. It takes a leap forward after that, with Bones and Silence. but Underworld is good enough.

Morse — at last we disagree about something Alan! The TV is great, but only takes off after the Dexter stories were exhausted, imo. The novels are… very enjoyable, but not close to the class of Hill, etc, I think. And the TV is SO good, that I found the books hard to go back to. I have never watched the Dalziel TV. And I have never read Ian Rankin either, but that is because once in a while the BBC does a terrific radio adaptation, and I figure when I’m old enough I’ll have forgotten the plots and can enjoy readng them serially.


Robert 11.24.15 at 12:47 pm

What do you think about J. K. Rowling’s mystery novels? I’m not much of a fan.


Harry 11.24.15 at 1:32 pm

I loved the first two. They are not anything like PD James/Reginald Hill quality (yet) but I found them totally absorbing, nicely humorous, and well-plotted. The third one is gross.
I should say I read a couple of crime novels a week, so cannot afford to be too picky. In this series I am trying to highlight the really great ones!


MikeM 11.24.15 at 7:06 pm

My wife and I look at damn near everything published by Soho Press. Their authors cover the globe, so we’re learning something about different cultures with every volume.


P.M.Lawrence 11.27.15 at 9:25 am

If readers want to do something in the style of Molesworth, it might help them to look at Molesworth on Denmark, which they can find at


Teachable Moe 11.27.15 at 4:55 pm

For TV adaptations, the series I’ve most enjoyed is the Swedish Wallander with Krister Henriksson. Followed by Foyle’s War (written by Anthony Horowitz) and Dalziel & Pascoe with Warren Clarke as Dalziel. Clarke is almost too good, if such a thing were possible. Close by these is the George Gently series largely (for my taste) because of the second-to-the-detective, John Bacchus, who is wonderfully inadequate but not at all stupid.

I love Soho Press’s ambition. The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill is a good example of the best of their list.

If you are in southwest Florida, try to get to Gene’s Books on Sanibel Island. The owner (derived from comments of the clerk who helped us) seems to want to have every mystery novel ever written in the world. (Slight hyperbole alert.) The front room has mysteries from all over the world in every genre and age. All arranged in an eccentric fashion that lends itself to browsing.


Bill Murray 11.27.15 at 8:15 pm

I would add (in addition to the one’s I added in part 1), and going with a more international feel

1. Donna Leon — Commissario Guido Brunetti series

2. Andrea Camilleri — Inspector Montalbano series

3. Maurizio de Giovanni — Comissario Ricciardi series

4. Jakob Arjouni — Kayankaya series

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