Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson was born in York and now resides in Edinburgh. She has published eight novels and one short story collection. Five of those novels feature police inspector-turned private-eye Jackson Brodie. With more than a million copies sold in the United States alone, this would seem to place Atkinson's work firmly in the "genre" category. Before that was Atkinson's first novel, "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" (1995) — which garnered both critical acclaim and international best-sellerdom. In 2011, Atkinson was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for service to literature.

Life AFter Life
Jackson Brodie
Jackson Brodie: Book Reviews
Jackson Brodie: TV Series

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson's new book Life After Life was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013.

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read by Tracy in April 2013

Tracy recommends as a book that takes you from tears to laughter and although its premise is deceptively simple, you can’t predict the twists.

After reading and loving the Jackson Brodie books, we snapped up Life After Life as soon as it was released, even though we were plagued with doubts on whether the new book would it be good and more importantly would it be as good as per previous books. Life After Life is very different to the Jackson Brodie (Case Histories) series, we are taken through a journey of rebirth via alcoholism, domestic violence, war, death, Hitler and everything else you can imagine in your life(ves). This isn't the first time that Kate has ventured into time travel with her previous book Behind the Scenes at the Museum following a woman who has an uncanny knowledge of events that are outside of her personal knowledge.

Life After Life investigates the arrival of Ursula Todd. Born on a snowy February day, she is initially stillborn, with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. However, in the next chapter we see that despite the winter storms, a doctor makes it through and is able to help Ursula survive, and then again later, her mother has the scissors ready for the arrival – “practice makes perfect” concludes Atkinson. After each death, Ursula is reborn her past lives float in her consciousness.

Ursula Todd is the third of eventually five children born to banker father Hugh and opinionated mother Sylvia. The Todd family inhabit an idyllic corner of the English countryside in their equally idyllic home named Fox Corner (named after fox cubs were sighted on the grounds and also to avoid naming it something middle-class!). At the centre of Ursula’s life are her older sister Pamela and her younger brother Teddy, with her other two brothers, particularly the horrible prig, Maurice, holding a lesser connection The house is managed by Mrs Glover, the cook, and Bridget, the maid. As Ursula’s childhood progresses, she meets a variety of deaths, all of which make you realise that living in that age came with a lot of fragility. As Ursula travels through her lives each story is ended when the “Darkness falls” before we are whisked back to the same place, same players and same infant to meet a happier fate. As Ursula escapes death and is reborn, her progress is a different route, as if she learns from her past, but isn't fully aware of why she changes some of her actions.

Each of Ursula's lives are set against the changing backdrop of Europe, through several world wars, the Spanish Flu epidemic, least of all the life style changes that see Ursula wonder what on earth she can do with her life as the role of women changed faster than societal attitudes. The characters that surround Ursula are interesting in their own right, in a lot of cases all just surviving the plots they have been dropped into. Ursula’s mother, Sylvie, is an ardent wife and mother but strains under the restrictions placed on her role in society. After an elopement gone wrong, Ursula’s Aunt Izzie now resides in London with a string of lovers, but struggles with the choices she has made in her life. There are also many others that flit through Ursula’s life not least of all Eva Braun - all living their impacts. The storyline regarding Braun was a strange one; revealed as pathetic, desperate for attention and hidden away from the public eye – a victim!

Some of the stories are fantastic, as you see Ursula return and return, struggling to get it right and meet the outcome, we as the reader want. In one life, Bridget, goes off to London to celebrate the end of the Great War but unwittingly brings the deadly Spanish flu back home on the train. In the subsequent reincarnation, Ursula is racked with terror at the thought of Bridget going off to London and so pushes her, spraining her ankle, and averting her contact with the flu. Luckily after this incident, Sylvie sends Ursula to a psychiatrist. Dr Keller talks to Ursula about reincarnation, circularity and Buddhism with its fundamental idea of eternal return. He teaches Ursula to compartmentalize her sense of repetition and live her life unburdened.

Whilst most of the stories leave us feeling dark and bleak, Atkinson does open the curtains and we are allowed a glimmer of hope. In a particularly riveting section, Ursula’s priggish brother Maurice brings home an American friend who subsequently rapes Ursula; Aunt Izzie arranges an abortion. In her next reincarnation we revisit the rape scene, but this time a tougher Ursula beats off her attacker and escapes humiliation and the eventual clutches of a very hostile and abusive husband.

Life After Life takes you from tears to laughter and although its premise is deceptively simple, you can’t predict the twists in Ursula’s life, instead you have a suspicion which leaves you with inexplicable dread in some cases. Not bad for a book that takes on the worst of Europes recent history - Hitler.

Life After Life is getting rave reviews in different media outlets and Lionsgate has bought the film rights for the big screen. The script will be written by Semi Chellas and Esta Spalding, who have written for Mad Men and the US adaptation of the Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge respectively. In recent years, Lionsgate has achieved huge success by adapting the Twilight novels and The Hunger Games, starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Its sequel, Catching Fire, is due for release in November. Other page to screen adaptations by the entertainment company include 2009’s Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, and 2011’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It also produced the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, based on the prison memoirs of Piper Kerman. Life After Life is Atkinson’s ninth work. She was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to literature.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page. Life After Life was voted as one of the readers' choice top 15 books of 2013 at BookPage.

Jackson Brodie

Our Book Club highly recommends Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series. These books are intelligent crime novels featuring quirky, well developed characters, clever and funny dialogue and a series of twists and turns that will have you turning the pages well into the night. Linked by the central character of Jackson Brodie, he is a former soldier turned policeman turned private investigator who now makes his money doing everything from investigating infidelity to finding missing cats. His tough guy exterior belies a deeply empathetic heart and he is unable to resist coming to the rescue, particularly for the bereaved, the lost and the dysfunctional. His empathy stems from a tragic childhood he is unable to fully recover from and which haunts both his everyday actions and the relationships he tries to form with the women in his life, including his ex-wife, his daughter and the police officer Joanne. Currently standing at 4 books in the series, these are best read in order and feature recurring characters and interesting plot segues that are likely to be further developed in future books. Well we hope so anyway, it's hard to say based on this recent article, where Kate potentially gave Jackson Brodie fans a minor heart attack when she said “she might not write about Jackson again, at least for a while, 7 years maybe….but then I might change my mind”. Based on the ending of Started Early, Took My Dog, we really hope she does change her mind! Kate's books are definitely worth a read if you fancy smartly written crime novels with very clever and witty plots and dialogue.

Kate has her own website where you can find reviews, book news, tour dates and even download group reading notes.

Back to top

Jackson Brodie: Book Reviews

Book Cover of Case Histories Book Cover of One Good Turn Book Cover of When Will There Be Good News? Book Cover of Started Early, Took My Dog

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate AtkinsonBook cover of Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Read by Natalie December 2010 and Tracy September 2011

Natalie and Tracy recommend as wow, she just keeps getting better

What can I say, Kate you have done it again. I love her and I love this book. The 4th in the unintentional Jackson Brodie series (after Case Histories, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News – see below for reviews), this time Jackson is investigating the background of Hope, a woman who was adopted and taken to New Zealand, but knows nothing about her birth mother. Jackson, now the confirmed father to Nathan and the ex of fake-wife Tessa, is doing freelance, and agrees to investigate Hope’s background whilst trying to hunt down the fake wife and all his money. Set 2 years after When Will There Be Good News, this time Jackson is without Louise (although she is in his thoughts), doesn’t realise what he’s getting himself into and as usual things just keep getting crazier and crazier. Thrown into the mix is former detective Tracy Waterhouse, now retired and working as a shopping mall security guard, she unexpectedly comes home with more than she bargained for when she buys a kid off a known junkie/prostitute. Having never had a family of her own and haunted by a crime more than 25 years ago where she rescued a small child from a dead prostitute, Tracy doesn’t think before she buys, but is forced to go on the run because of her actions. Also present is former actress Tilly, now an old woman who isn’t aware she is suffering from dementia, but is acting in a main stream popular crime series on TV. About to be killed off because of her incompetence, her only friend onset is Julia, Jackson’s former girlfriend and the mother of Jackson’s second child Nathan. Tilly’s life hasn’t been that great, playing second fiddle to her so called friend Pheobe, who also knew former model Kitty, who happens to be the wife of Dr Ian Whitfield, who helped out Detectives Barry and Len and Ray and Rex, former coppers with Tracy on that case 25 years ago!

How does all this tie together….well, throw in a missing boy, a B. Jackson doppelganger, flashbacks to the 25 year old crime and the killing spree of the Yorkshire Ripper and yet again, Kate Atkinson works her magic. Un-put-downable at the end, I just love the twists and turns she gives us alongside the very witty dialogue. As always, the directions she takes her characters are nothing what you expect (yes, despite being absent Louise is not forgotten) and I closed this one screaming, “pick up the phone Jackson, please!!!” The ending leaves you with a tantalising look at a possible 5th book, not just when it comes to Jackson answering that phone, but also regarding his previous job in Munich, the one we got only a glimpse of, but which left Jackson with an unanswered question - and the reader desperate to get their hands on the next book!

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

Buy Now

Back to top

When Will There Be Good News by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

Read by Natalie in July 2010 and Tracy in September 2011

Natalie and Tracy recommends this as an excellent book

This is the third Kate Atkinson book in the Jackson Brodie series (read the previous reviews for Case Histories and One Good Turn). What can we say - it just gets better and better. A loose trilogy that looks at the life of Jackson Brodie, a former member of the army, former police officer and former private investigator. Although the books don't need to be read in order, it will help get a better understanding of the characters - best of all Atkinson doesn't repeat herself with each subsequent novel, she knows the reader is smart enough to remember! The latest book starts off with a horrific and random crime 30 years ago. Flash forward to the present and over the next 4 days we meet 16 year old Reggie who has lost both her parents, left school and is now babysitting for a local GP, Dr Hunter. Louise the single detective from One Good Turn is investigating a missing murderer and the suspicious fire that involves Dr Hunter's husband, while at the same time delivering the news that the murderer from 30 years ago is about to be released from jail. Suddenly Dr Hunter goes missing, although no one but Reggie seems to care or notice, least of all her husband and Reggie turns out to be something of a bulldog and right in the middle of the action. Add in a train crash that involves Jackson Brodie and the released murderer, where Jackson is saved by Reggie in a totally separate incident, throw in supposed sightings of the missing murderer and a whole lot of mystery with Dr Hunter's husband and this is one good read. One of the highlights is the fact that you also still get snippets of previous characters and learn the directions that their lives are taking. Atkinson leaves each book with you thinking you know what will happen, only for you to start the next and find something completely different has occurred. This book is no different and as we leave both Louise and Jackson, who really should be and want to be together, we know that it isn't going to work out like that. I agree with Brodie when he offered his daughter a thousand pounds if she did not have a butterfly, dolphin or chinese character tattoo before she turned 21, they are certainly not brilliant choices in having something permanent on your skin (and yes I do know). Although Brodie appears to have a typical male thought process in not understanding why a woman would own shoes she can't run in, but his daughter seems to be breaking through that with her desire to indoctrinate him into the world of Manolos and Jimmy Choos. Again you are still allowed glimpses into the lives of previous characters as Jackson seems unable to completely let go of the past. The ending sets up a fourth book and one can only hope it arrives soon! A fantastically different crime/mystery novel with a unique writing style and great (and at times very funny) dialogue.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

Buy Now

One Good Turn by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Read by Natalie in 2008 and Tracy in September 2011

Natalie and Tracy recommends this as better than its predecessor Case Histories.

This is basically a sequel to Case Histories and is set two years later with Jackson Brodie now a retired millionaire, thanks to his former crime solving abilities. He is still involved with Julia, one of his former clients, and on a trip to the Edinburgh Festival to watch Julia in a play he witnesses a brutal display of road rage that draws him out of retirement and into a series of coincidences. I enjoyed this book better than Case Histories as Atkinson seemed to get more involved in the other characters and not just focused on Brodie. It was also interesting to know the catalyst for the story and then how all the pieces fitted together through a myrid of side stories I loved Atkinsons analogy about audioguides and their comparison to the voice of 'Jane' who happens to be the voice on TomTom. I know I have tried different voices, but tend to return to Jane, although Sean was funny with his Irish accent. The ending was a little rushed and the final two characters she introduces are never really fully established for why they took part in the crime in the first place. The ending sees Jackson ending his relationship with his former client Julia after she becomes pregnant to another man, instead catching the eye of a single parent police detective (Louise) who helps him in the case. I loved the characters of Tatiana and Gloria they added a bit of lighteartedness to the ending and you wish them well on their future exploits.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

Buy Now

Case Histories by Kate AtkinsonBook Cover of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Read by Natalie 2007

Natalie recommends this as quite interesting, but probably not what I thought it was going to be.

Case Histories is about three separate crimes that were committed over several decades. We are given insight into each of these crimes and then introduced to Jackson Brodie, a private investigator who is in the midst of a divorce and gradually drawn into investigating each of the case histories. His first one, about a young girl who went missing several decades ago is probably the crime that is the major focus of the book and also involves two older and somewhat strange sisters of the missing girl. He is gradually drawn into the other two crimes, a woman randomly stabbed by a stranger in her office and a murdered husband who wife was sitting beside the axed body, as well as becoming the target of his own stalking and attempted murder. The book was interesting and I was keen to find out how all of these crimes and actions were going to come together. Unfortunately they didn't tie up as nicely as I thought, in fact they were barely linked and in some cases, weren't actually solved. I did enjoy the book, but just felt a little let down by the ending, as it had all the great aspects of a crime and mystery, but just didn't pull it off.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

Buy Now

Jackson Brodie: TV Series

The BBC has now adapted the first 3 books in the series into a 6 part TV series. Collectively entitled Case Histories, they feature Jason Isaacs (previously seen in Harry Potter) as Jackson Brodie. Full of entertaining and original characters and showcasing the fascinating jigsaw that is a Kate Atkinson novel, each two-part story is warm and poignant, whilst also exploring the darkness that underpins each crime mystery. The series was filmed and set in Edinburgh and received the TV Dagger at the ITV2 Crime Thriller Awards in 2011.

For more information on the series, characters and cast, visit the BBC Case Histories Website or see below if you would like to watch an interview with Kate and Jason as they discuss the making of Case Histories