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ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson: Book Review

It’s not too often that I laugh at the last line of a mystery novel, but One Good Turn made me do just that. This book somehow is mysterious, funny, and touching all at the same time, not an easy feat.

The story opens with a man, who calls himself Ray, driving in Edinburgh during the city’s yearly Fringe Festival. He’s lost in the maze of unfamiliar streets and crowds, and as he tries to avoid hitting a pedestrian standing in the middle of the road, a Honda rear-ends his car.  From that car comes a huge man wielding a baseball bat, and the next thing Ray knows he’s down on the ground with the bat poised for another strike at him.  But just then someone throws something at Ray’s attacker, throwing him to the ground as well.  A crowd gathers, the police arrive, and a kind of pandemonium ensues.  When the smoke clears, so to speak, Ray and the man who threw the missile are taken away in one ambulance, and the attacker gets into his Honda and leaves the scene.

The only reliable witness, the only person to have taken down the Honda’s license plate, is Jackson Brodie, a former army officer, policeman, and now a private detective. Jackson’s main problem is that he doesn’t need to work, having inherited two million pounds, but despite having a beautiful home in France and an enchanting girlfriend who’s acting in a Fringe play, he’s bored.  Then, later that same day, as he’s walking down a dark street near where his girlfriend’s play will be performed, he’s set upon by the “Honda man,” as Jackson thinks of him, and the man’s vicious dog.

While all this is going on, the reader meets Gloria Hatter.  She’s married to Graham, whose sleazy construction firm is known throughout Scotland by the motto Real Homes for Real People.  Unhappily married, with two ungrateful grown children who don’t appear to like either of their parents, Gloria spends her time agonizing over the tragic fates that befall innocent people and animals.  Thinking of leaving her loveless marriage, Gloria has been siphoning money from their joint bank account, five hundred pounds daily, with an eye toward leaving Graham and the crookedness he represents behind her.  And then she gets a call.  Graham is in a coma, having been brought to a hospital by the prostitute he’d been in bed with, a Russian dominatrix complete with handcuffs and chains.

How, you may ask, do all these disparate characters get together?  What can possibly be the connection between the mysterious Ray, aka Paul Bradley; Martin Canning, aka Alex Blake, the man who threw what turns out to be his laptop at the Honda man; Jackson Brodie, middle-aged millionaire who still want to be a policeman; Julia, the actress whose rehearsals keep getting longer and longer; and Gloria Hatter, meek housewife/embezzler.

The way Kate Atkinson ties everything together is a marvel.  Everything seems illogical at first–did I mention that there are a lot of Russian prostitutes/house cleaners running around this novel–but it all makes sense at the end.  Although the story takes place over only a few days, there’s enough plot in it for a month.  This is a truly enjoyable novel, even for readers who don’t ordinarily enjoy mysteries.

You can read more about Kate Atkinson at her web site.