When Will There Be Good News?
When Will There Be Good News? is the third book in Kate Atkinson's series featuring Jackson Brodie. It was the first one I read, however, and you shouldn't let it stop you if you're thinking about making this the first one you'll read, too. In fact, Jackson Brodie seems more like a peripheral character in this novel, with most of the action being linked together by a sixteen-year-old girl named Reggie Chase. Reggie's mom has recently died, her brother is a small-time criminal, and Reggie is left more or less to fend for herself. To support herself, she works as the nanny for Dr. Joanna Hunter's infant son, and although she has dropped out of school, she is still being tutored for her exams by an eccentric former teacher named Ms. MacDonald.
The action of the story is kicked off when a police officer visits Dr. Hunter to let her know that the man who murdered her mother, brother, and sister--an attack which Joanna was the only one to survive--thirty years ago is about to be let out of prison. The next day, the police are back at the Hunters' house, but this time it's to talk to Joanna Hunter's husband. One of his businesses has burnt down, and the police suspect that Neil Hunter may have torched the place for insurance money. Days later, Dr. Hunter and her baby son disappear. Her husband says she went to visit a sick aunt, but Reggie is suspicious because Dr. Hunter didn't tell her she was going away, her car is still in the garage, and she's not answering her phone. But does Dr. Hunter's disappearance have to do with the murderer being released from prison, or could it be another insurance fraud scheme of Mr. Hunter's?
Right after Dr. Hunter disappears, Reggie is studying at Ms. MacDonald's when a train derails just behind the house. She runs outside and ends up saving the life of Jackson Brodie, who was on the train. Upon learning that he's a private detective and former cop, she tells him about her suspicions about Dr. Hunter's disappearance. Jackson is reluctant to look into it at first, assuming that Reggie is overreacting, but when circumstances conspire to keep throwing them together, he is gradually brought around to her way of thinking.
Eventually the murder of Dr. Hunter's family, her disappearance, and the train wreck all come together in ways that are interesting and unexpected, and provide a satisfying end to the story. Kate Atkinson's mysteries are known for being more literary than action-packed, and there is indeed a proliferation of characters and subplots, to the extant that it's sometimes a struggle to identify what is the main plot, and who is the main character. The pace is deliberate, which in the opinion of others may be an indication that the story is bogged down by too big a cast, and too many side stories. Atkinson has been criticized for relying too heavily on coincidences to bring all the threads together, but personally I found the way she brought the many plot threads together to be surprising and thought-provoking.
Fans of Jackson Brodie will, of course, want to start at the beginning with Case Histories and One Good Turn. Atkinson has also written the fabulous, multi-layered historical novel Life after Life, which I consider to be a must-read. Ruth Rendell and Tana French also write character-driven mysteries that might hit the sweet spot for fans of Atkinson's Brodie mysteries.