As indicated by the title, When will there be good news ? is not a cheerful book. Actually, the story itself is quite gruesome, with numerous deaths and a succession of tragic events which seems to never stop. If it weren’t for Kate Atkinson’s obvious talent at writing, I would probably not have enjoyed such a plot.
In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works for Dr. Hunter. But when her employer disappears with her baby, she seems to be the only one to worry about her, perhaps because Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is too busy looking for David Needler, who has just murdered several relatives.
Anita Shreve’s novel is moving and its organisation successfully organised: one chapter out of two tells about the present and explains how Kathryn deals with the situation. The other chapters tell about the past and recount moments of her life with her husband Jack, from their marriage to the last time she saw him. As a consequence, the reader feels involved in Kathryn’s thoughts and discovers her memories little by little, as they come back to her mind. At the same time, and without the reader noticing it, the author prepares the spectacular end which is about to come. It is only towards the very end, after tension built up in the last chapters, that we fully understand the connection between all the anecdotes – although a basic general knowledge is required to catch all the details.
Jackson Brodie, ex-police officer, is on a journey that could change his life, but an unexpected event occurs which turns his plans unsuccessful.
These three different stories finally come together in an amazingly thrilling plot which holds in store many surprises.
Although this book is not the first one telling of Jackson Brodie’s adventures, it is the first one I read and it turned out to be a success. I really enjoyed the writing style, which is not what you would expect in a crime novel. It is funny, full of jokes, plays on words and comic scenes; it is literary, full of quotes by famous British authors; it is contemporary, full of references to a typical English or Scottish daily life. And yet, it is full of suspense and dark events.
We are thrown into the story straightaway, witnessing a terrific crime. However, after these few pages full of tension, the pace slows down notably and we have a whole first part to gat to know the characters. Several stories are mixed together: Reggie’s, Dr. Hunter’s, Louise Monroe’s, Jackson Brodie’s... and many other people’s. The chronology is more or less linear and so we go from one person to another. In these chapters, there is not a lot of action; we get to know the characters we are going to accompany until the end of the book. The way the plot is built reminded me a lot of Harlan Coben’s novels, which always start with different stories that come together in the end.
It is only about half way through the book that we finally understand the link between these different stories. I would not say there is real suspense, because I had guessed quite a lot of the events, but it did not spoil my reading at all and the tension built up constantly in the second part. From that moment on, the rhythm of the story is a real contrast to the slow – and apparently quiet – life the characters lived at the beginning. I liked the difference and thought it was extremely well balanced; we get to now the characters first and then the action takes place.
The characters are all extremely well built and attaching. We get to know them extremely well and I particularly enjoyed Reggie, who is the real hero of the novel. Although she does not have a lucky life, she is very clever and kind as well as independent and grown-up – sometimes a little bit too much to my taste. As plays a central role in the plot, all the other characters get to know her and I liked the way their relationships slowly developed.
The great number of deaths and murders – I think that all of the characters have a member of their family who died of natural or unnatural cause – was sometimes too much for me, but although there were so many coincidences, I was not disturbed by the fact that the story was unrealistic or unlikely. This is probably due to the author’s writing style and the way she constructed her story.
In summary, When will there be good news ? is a good book, between psychological and crime novel. Kate Atkinson’s writing style is no doubt its biggest strength, with many touches of humour in the middle of a rather macabre story – something fresh and unexpected that will lead us through the pages.