Book Report: Case Histories

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Case Histories is a mystery novel by the wonderfully talented Kate Atkinson and was published in 2004. It is also, apparently, a BBC/PBS series which I DID NOT KNOW AND WILL NOW BE BINGE WATCHING (Starring Lucius Malfoy, yall!).

Case Histories is the story of Jackson Brodie, a kind of down-and-out private detective, who is suddenly tasked with three famous cold cases. Years ago, a little girl disappears from her backyard tent, never to be seen again. In a second case, a young woman is slashed to death, seemingly randomly, while working in her father’s office. Thirdly, a young mother and wife ax murders her husband, leaving behind a baby daughter who is later lost in the system.

The novel opens with the first case, that of the famous Olivia Land. Olivia is the youngest daughter of Rosemary and Victor Land and she is the family favorite. Olivia is smart, loving, adorable and compliant. Olivia has three older sisters; Sylvia, Amelia and Julia. On the day of Olivia’s disappearance, Rosemary lets Amelia and Olivia pitch their tent and spend the night outside. This is something they’ve done for forever, but this camp out will irrevocably change all of their lives. For when Amelia wakes in the morning, Olivia is no longer sleeping next to her. Amelia calls after Olivia, assuming she wandered outside or back to the house to use the restroom. Amelia’s curiosity soon turns to panic however. And Olivia is never seen again. Twenty years later, Amelia and Julia Land are back in their old family home for their father’s funeral. While cleaning out their father’s study, they open a locked drawer and find Blue Mouse; Olivia’s favorite stuffed animal and the one that she had slept every night, including the night she disappeared. If Olivia and Blue Mouse went missing, and no one saw them, how is it that Blue Mouse has been hiding in Victor Land’s office for the past 20 years? Insert Detective Brodie.

Years after Olivia’s disappearance, is the case of Laura Wyre. Laura is the youngest daughter of Theo Wyre, an attorney. Theo is a widower and father of two daughters but Laura is Theo’s greatest treasure, and in his eyes she is eternally innocent and pure. But is she? After Laura graduates, Theo is thrilled that she decides to go straight to university rather than take a year off to travel to any number of dangerous places. Instead, she’ll work in his office for the summer, the safest place she could be. On Laura’s first day of work at the office, Theo has a meeting at a client’s office but they plan to meet for lunch. When Theo returns to the office, he finds a bloodbath, and his favorite daughter dead on the conference room floor. Ten years later, Theo is tired of wondering, tired of trying to piece together an investigation of Laura’s death. He has never accepted that Laura is gone or that her death was random and so, he calls on Jackson Brodie.

Jackson’s final case revolves around Michelle. Michelle is a determined young woman – she was determined to make something of herself, to go to school, work in an office. But Michelle fell for a man and now she lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no money and a screaming baby. Pretty grim, but our Michelle will do what she can to make it work. Michelle reads everything she can get her hands on, living in the country is no reason to let things slide. One evening, Michelle is baking a chocolate cake for her sister who is coming to visit. The baby is finally, blessedly, asleep which also means peace and quiet for Michelle. Until her husband walks in and wakes the baby, who is pissed. The baby won’t stop screaming and Michelle quite literally,loses her shit. She walks out into the yard, grabs her husband’s ax and proceeds to whack him over the head with it. Michelle goes to prison, obviously, and leaves her baby daughter to the whims of the system. Years later, Michelle’s sister hires Jackson Brodie to find her sister’s daughter.

Are the cases related? Will Jackson actually be able to help any of these clients solve years-old cold cases? The fun of this mystery novel is yes, the mystery but for me it was really about the characters. First off, the Land sisters are a crazy hoot and I love them. They are argumentative, intelligent, sincere and so many other adjectives. Theo Wyre is a father that I simultaneously pitied and envied. The depth of his love and grief was incredibly real. And Michelle. Lawd have mercy. You just have to read about Michelle to get any sense of her. Plus Jackson himself so real, so believable that you can’t help but root for him. This is why I love Kate Atkinson. She takes a mystery novel, with all of the genres tropes and stock characters and breathes into them such life and depth. I laughed out loud while reading this book and I also couldn’t put it down because I NEEDED to find out the resolution to these cases. If you enjoy mystery novels or just smartly written fiction, read Case Histories – I mean, read anything by Kate Atkinson but you might want to start with Case Histories.


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