With One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson returns to Jackson Brodie, the hero of her last novel, Case Histories. However, where Case Histories was dark and brooding, dwelling on and in the troubled pasts of many of the book’s characters, One Good Turn is antic and madcap.
It should come as no surprise then that the book’s original title was A Jolly Murder Mystery, as Atkinson drops us into the middle of the famously whimsical Edinburgh Fringe Festival, “the world’s largest arts festival.” The festival, however, is not integral to the murder mystery that unfolds, instead the crowds, actors (Brodie’s girlfriend among them), and air of frivolity all serve as a foil to the dour Brodie, who, having inherited a large sum of money, has since the last book moved to France where he seems to do little more than sit around in his pool and wish that he were still a cop.
One Good Turn, of course, gives him a chance to do just that when he first witnesses a road rage incident in the crowded streets of Edinburgh and then later sees (or thinks he sees) the floating body of a girl off nearby Cramond Island. These two incidents thrust us into the book’s cast of characters, among them Gloria, the wife of the crooked real estate developer Graham Hatter; Louise, a single mother and hardworking Edinburgh cop; and most memorably Martin Canning (aka Alex Blake), who pseudonymously writes flighty, but popular, novels about a squeaky clean girl detective. Odd Martin steals the show in this novel with his quirky fastidiousness, self-loathing, and dreams of a soft-focus sexless marriage.
Thrown into this mix is a mysterious man with a gun and a house cleaning service named Favors whose pink-clad maids maybe don’t just clean houses. Much of this book’s mystery is devoted to untangling the story’s threads, though what we learn at the end cleverly turns the whole book on its head.
One Good Turn doesn’t carry the weight of its predecessor, and seems almost unabashedly a confection, but in this respect it doesn’t disappoint. The book is a breeze, and indeed a “jolly good” time.