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Wednesday, December 15th, 2004


Case Histories: A Novel

by Kate Atkinson

Looking for the Lands

A review by Anna Godbersen

Missing girls haunt each twisting storyline of Case Histories, Kate Atkinson's darkly comedic, literary page-turner of a novel. There is Olivia, the golden youngest of the four miserable Land sisters (the offspring of Victor, a cold, nasty mathematician with ominously large hands, and Rosemary, his regretfully fertile wife), who disappeared during a backyard camping trip one hot summer night over thirty years ago. There is Laura, the saintly teenage daughter of the loving, obese, widowed lawyer Theo, horrifically absented from her father's life ten years ago by a stranger's knife at her throat. And then there is Tanya, orphaned as an infant when her perfectionist teen mother, on a particularly rough day, fatefully wielded an axe against her less than perfect father. Tying them all together is Jackson Brodie, Private Investigator, who has a few problems of his own: He's a chain smoker, recently divorced from his wholly unlikable wife, a little lonely, and not an especially good businessman. He spends a lot of time listening to the pained voices of female country singers, and he may have a missing girl in his past, too. But then, all of a sudden, he is handed the cases of Olivia (by her two remaining older sisters), Laura (by her still-grieving father) and Tanya (by her somehow untrustworthy aunt, who is now trying to find her, twenty five years later). Atkinson connects the lives of her ensemble cast of characters with a blithe, fairytale-like narration that can be, at turns, hilarious, macabre and suspenseful, but is blessed at all times with a remarkable lack of sentimentality. She bestows her characters, for the most part, with cruel childhoods and bleak adulthoods, but those good enough, and lucky enough, will be given a chance to solve their mysteries and, perhaps, find happiness.

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