Case Histories is the first in a series featuring Jackson Brodie, a police officer turned private detective. The first three chapters set up the rest of the book, each describing a murder or missing person case. The three cases spanned a thirty-year period and were completely unrelated. Two were never solved. Each packed such a punch, I had to put the book down after the opening chapters and allow that feeling in the pit of my stomach to subside.
After that bit of stage-setting, Jackson Brodie is brought in to investigate a situation related to the first case. Amelia and Julia are two sisters; 30 years ago their 3-year-old sister Olivia went missing. The sisters discover something that causes them to question their version of events. Meanwhile, another client contacts Jackson seeking more information about his daughter’s death from apparently random violence. Intertwined with these two stories is a third about a young woman who killed her husband and left a young daughter to be raised by her sister.
The story-within-a-story format was a great way to introduce a diverse cast of characters but still develop them fully. While the intensity diminishes after the first three chapters, each case still strikes an emotional chord and it would be impossible not to get wrapped up in the characters’ lives. I also enjoyed the way Kate Atkinson gradually revealed the truth, usually through tiny details or snippets of conversation. She kept me guessing by throwing in a couple of red herrings, but also created several satisfying “aha!” moments when puzzle pieces fell into place. This was everything a good mystery should be.