Kate Atkinson’s first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, beat out Salman Rushdie for the 1995 Whitbread Award, an endorsement of her sure hand in depicting the peculiar cast of life in her native Yorkshire. She seems to have taken the vote of confidence as encouragement to experiment. In her last book, Not the End of the World, her plaything was magic realism. Here in Case Histories, it’s the detective novel, and it gets the better of her (not by much, but still). Three unrelated murder cases come under the scrutiny of private investigator Jackson Brodie, a man whose quirks are only slightly less predictable than his canniest pensées: “The entire world consisted of one accounting sheet—lost on the left-hand side, found on the right. Unfortunately the two never balanced.” Some of the other characters are more fully turned out, and the multipronged plot is ingeniously tied up. But in the end this is a clever detective novel, no less but no more.
by Kate Atkinson.
Little, Brown. 312 Pages. $23.95.