WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? Kate Atkinson Doubleday, £17.99
JACKSON Brodie is hoicked from a near-death train wreck and his continued attempts at retirement to find himself once more on Edinburgh's crime-ridden streets between the pages of another faultless display by Kate Atkinson.
Louise Monroe, angry, self-loathing and trapped in a young but humdrum marriage, and Brodie's erstwhile almost-lover, is heading the crime squad dealing with several gruesome cases at once.
There is Reggie Chase, 16 going on 40, and "orphan of the parish, poor Jenny Wren", whose father died before she knew him and whose mother drowned on holiday in "unsuitable orange lycra".
Dr Joanna Hunter, whose "whole life is an act of bereavement, longing for something that she could no longer remember" is the sole survivor and witness of a "massacre" in which her mother and siblings were hewn down by a motiveless young man named Andrew Decker, 30 years before this ripe saga begins. His release date is up and Dr Hunter's carefully constructed family life seems about to be shattered once more. So far, so grim.
Like the other titles in the Jackson Brodie series, this one plays with the tenets of the crime genre without ever sacrificing the essence of wit and nuance which make Atkinson's novels such jubilant reads.
As in Case Histories, the chicane of a plot masters several strands. The mirroring in these lives can seem claustrophobically, perhaps even unbelievably, coincidental, but as Jackson muses philosophically, "a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen".
It would definitely seem so under Atkinson's deft watch – she stitches the seeming discordant plots into one big harmonious patchwork, where every stitch is a careful stitch and every patch operates both on its own merits and as part of the whole. She leaves clues strewn around which are easily missed and, as in life, some things are never explained or fully evident to everyone involved.
Atkinson's prose wipes a hand across its face and laughs. That way "the random horror of the world" is rendered more palatable. An irresistible melange of propulsive plot and tangible Everypersons, this book whistles along the dark path of the world's "lonesome highway" and shows that, with the right attitude, news needn't always be bad news.