One Good Turn: Why Does My Cat Lick Off All Her Leg Fur, And Other Pressing Mysteries

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Without knowing it I stumbled into a mystery series. Typical Sunday library book browsing: I was looking for Kate Atkinson’s God in Ruins for book club (and to follow-up on my enjoyment of Life After Life) and it wasn’t where it should be on the shelf. Instead I found One Good Turn with the handy (thanks, library staff) “mystery” sticker on the spine. And I thought, yeah, okay, I’m in for a mystery. 

I expected an opening chapter (or at least early chapter) of the murder, an introduction of characters, including the detective, a sequence of investigatory moments. Cue the music of expectations dashed! Atkinson instead presents a fresh, fun(ny) and unusual mystery plot sequence. We don’t learn of the exact crime (or series of crimes, I guess) until halfway through the novel; we’re never totally sure who is a suspect (either by the police or by us). Instead we get interwoven third person limited chapters from a range of characters all connected (we eventually discover) to the crime itself. It’s an entirely enjoyable (if, admittedly, first disorienting) way to experience a mystery novel. In part, I think, because this must be how actual mysteries unfold (I wouldn’t know – the biggest mystery in my life is why the cat keeps licking all the fur off her legs): you don’t know you’re in the midst of a mystery or crime until later; significant moments and events only take on significance in retrospect, without the predetermined narrative weight that is typically grafted onto a mystery novel – where the scene of importance announces itself well before any character ought to know it is important.

Add in that Atkinson writes very, very well (you could well see this novel described as a ‘literary mystery’) and what amounts is an entirely enjoyable read that demands little and offers up pleasure through its unique narrative form.

Apparently Atkinson has written other mysteries featuring the Jackson Brodie character. And its been adapted into a successful BBC series. Who knew. Not me. But now you! So go! Enjoy!

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery

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