One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie, #2)

By Kate Atkinson

37,906 ratings - 3.82* vote

It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident - a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander - until he becomes a murder suspect. As the body count mounts, each member of the teeming Dickensian cast' It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident - a

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Book details

Paperback, 418 pages
Original Title
One Good Turn
Edition Language

Community Reviews


In this second of the Jackson Brodie series, Kate Atkinson’s writing once again brings a fascinating cast of characters to our attention in a plot that has hidden links and connections on all fronts.

I like how we discover so much about the characters in this novel. If there is more, beyond the usual 3-D for characters, then it is definitely found in this novel. In just a few sentences we receive a great deal of information about the characters, but Ms Atkinson doesn’t stop there. As I became immersed in the story, all of the characters were revealed in depth – partly through their interactions with others, and partly through their thoughts and reminiscences.

[Martin] hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility that one day he might experience a conversion – a sudden lifting of the veil, an opening of his heart – although he thought it more likely that he was damned to be for ever on the road to Damascus, the road most travelled.


Pam wasn’t what Gloria would have called a friend, just someone she had known for so long that she had given up trying to get rid of her. Pam was married to Murdo Miller, Gloria’s own husband’s closest friend. Graham and Murdo had attended the same Edinburgh school, an expensive education that had put a civil polish on their basically loutish characters. They were now both much richer than their fellow alumni, a fact which Murdo said, ‘Just goes to show.’ Gloria thought that it didn’t go to show anything except, possibly, that they were greedier and more ruthless than their former classmates.

These are just a couple of examples of how I was drawn into the character’s lives – their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. And above all, this novel is filled with relationships. In August 2017 I read my first Josephine Tey novel, ‘The Man in the Queue’. There is a faint echo – a nod of recognition perhaps, or maybe pure coincidence – in this novel. It begins with a queue for a comedy performance at the Edinburgh festival. A festival celebrant steps out in front of a car driving past the queue, the driver of the car slams on his brakes and just misses the fellow but the car behind him slams into his vehicle. The driver of that car then gets out and starts swinging – knocks down the driver of the first car, takes a bat to the windows of his car, and then just as he is about to club the driver sprawled on the ground, a fellow steps out of the queue and throws his briefcase with his laptop in it, spins the assailant around and he loses his balance.

In that short opening sequence, we already meet 3 characters who have important roles in this novel. There are also three or four other characters in the novel who are in the queue for the comedy act. This tight opening then starts to unfurl as we follow the lives and thoughts of the various participants – including some of the police officers who eventually show up after some of the principals have left the scene.

So now we have all these streamers of lives floating in the Edinburgh breezes, and with her typical brilliance, Ms Atkinson pulls them all together until, at the end, all of the connections become clear – to the characters in the book, and to us, the readers.

I haven’t yet mentioned Jackson Brodie, but he is definitely there, definitely involved in this story and the characters, too, and I can’t wait to see how the changes he undergoes in this novel resolve in the next one.


Kate Atkinson continues her Jackson Brodie crime fiction series in her own original style of indepth characterisation, case studies if you will, and with plentiful doses of wit and humour. There is a road rage occurrence outside a Fringe Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival, a theatre in which Brodie's actress girlfriend, Julia, is performing. Amongst numerous others, Brodie, in a queue observes the incident. What we get from the author is a major focus on the circumstances and interior lives of a random range of characters, including Brodie, a crime fiction writer, a female police detective sergeant, and the spouse of a rich builder under investigation. None are known to each other, but as the narrative continues, coincidences arise, it appears good acts come back to bite and connections begin to emerge. Through circuitous routes, the characters stumble towards who they are, even if that is not what they are seeking. A great read and a great series. Thanks to Random House Transworld.


it took me long enough to finish this one, which says a lot. i'm the person who will willingly give up sleep, food, social interaction and general human-like activities to read a good book.

i really liked kate atkinson's case histories. it's been awhile since i read it, but it left enough of an impression that i was willing to dive into this one with little knowledge of what it was about, or what people thought of it. all in all, it had a very slow start for me. in fact, that was the biggest obstacle - the first 100 pages or so left me unmotivated to continue. once i was in the middle things picked up, but by the end i was just waiting to get to the last page.

i love a good mystery, but something was lacking here. the characters were odd, and not exactly in a good way. things were made needlessly complicated with too many characters, and behind the sheen of the mystery, there was a distinct lack of sincerity in this book that i found in case histories and really missed here. i didn't find myself particularly caring about the secret behind all the seemingly random events that were actually tied together; and without that, there wasn't much to grab onto.


“Somehow it seemed unlikely it was a coincidence. What had Jackson said? A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.

Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers, and the quote above describes the nature of her Jackson Brodie mysteries. There are seemingly random incidents and events involving separate characters around whom Atkinson builds back stories. Not for every character, but for the ones we’re going to become interested in, even if we don’t know why.

Jackson is in Edinburgh with girlfriend Julia for the Fringe Festival, where she is performing in a low-budget, (dreadful) play which Jackson has helped to bankroll with his unexpected windfall inheritance. With his windfall, he’d also bought a place in France, which he now considers home, but he still misses his young daughter and ex-wife, although we don’t see them this time around.

While Julia’s rehearsing, he’s amusing himself with the sights of Edinburgh and stumbling across things you and I wouldn’t. A dead body, for example.

But I’m ahead of myself. The book opens with a case of road rage. Serious road rage, and it happens in the middle of the day, right in front of people queuing to go into various festival events, and Jackson, who was just leaving Julia’s theatre.

Ray is the driver of the first vehicle.

“He looked in the rear-view mirror. A blue Honda Civic, the driver climbing out – big guy, slabs of weightlifter muscle, gym-fit rather than survival-fit, he wouldn’t have been able to last three months in the jungle or the desert the way that Ray could have done. He wouldn’t have lasted a day.”

We get some back story on Ray. Then there’s Martin. Martin has chucked his laptop at the driver of the second car who is just about to beat Ray to death, jungle training or no jungle training. Martin has shocked himself.

Atkinson gives us a fair bit of Martin’s background – a timid child, a quiet man, but a surprisingly successful author of cosy mysteries under pseudonym, Alex Blake. We learn a lot about Martin, while waiting to see what’s happening in the road, but I never mind Atkinson’s diversions. I like her people too much. And she brings us back to the incident.

“Martin tried to make himself an anonymous figure in the queue, tried to pretend he didn’t exist. He closed his eyes. He had done that at school when he was bullied, clinging to an ancient, desperate magic – they wouldn’t hit him if he couldn’t see them.”

Also nearby is Gloria, whom we will come to know very well later. She’s been dragged along by a friend to a comedy show she’s not looking forward to, but she’s fine with lining up to wait.

“Queuing was like life, you just shut up and got on with it. It seemed a shame she had been born just too late for the Second World War, she possessed exactly the kind of long-suffering spirit that wartime relied on.”

Again, we are diverted into Gloria’s life with her husband who became rich building dodgy houses. And again, I didn’t mind the diversion.

So where’s former detective Brodie? He’s been trying to escape the rather dingy venue where Julia and the cast are gathered to rehearse.

“Theatre for Jackson, although of course he would never say this to any of them, was a good pantomime, preferably in the company of an enthusiastic child.”

He’s ‘escaped’ outside just in time to see the action. Martin’s laptop has clipped the shoulder of the attacker, who’s just driven off, while self-described superman Ray is curled up bashed and bleeding on the ground. Martin is talking to him as the police arrive, so Jackson isn’t needed.

By this time, we know a fair bit about several people, none of whom know each other and each of whom we will follow (with interest, I must add), to find out how they become connected to Jackson and Julia.

I read this several years ago, and while I remembered some scenes, it was just as much fun this time around. Because Atkinson writes such whole people, it’s good to see them again. She ties up all the plot threads nicely, and if you were watching it like an old movie, you’d find yourself saying things like “Look behind you! See that guy? That’s the guy you’re looking for!!”

But of course, only we know that because we read someone’s story. There’s no way Jackson Brodie would know it. In this case, what he said in the opening quotation applies.

“A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.”

I must say, the sights of Edinburgh are nice, but because it’s Festival time and there is no accommodation available, the hotels we see are dreadful.

“He was not alone in his shoebox cell, however. The first night he was there he got up to go to the bathroom and almost stood on a cockroach pasturing on his bedroom carpet.”

Detective Sergeant Louise Monroe is a major character, interesting as a woman, a single mother with a surly 14-year-old son and an ancient cat. Her love life has been stifled, now that her son is a teen and she has no privacy to speak of. She adores him but has no idea how to handle him. (Who does?)

“They said love made you strong but in Louise’s opinion it made you weak. It corkscrewed into your heart and you couldn’t get it out again, not without ripping your heart to pieces.
. . .
The front door crashed open and was slammed shut again. Archie’s passage through the house was marked by the noise of things thrown and dropped and walked into. He was like the ball in a pinball machine. He exploded into the kitchen, nearly falling over his own feet. After he was born the midwife said, ‘Boys wreck your house, girls wreck your head.’ Archie seemed intent on doing both.”

I’ve included so much of the background because this is not a quick pot-boiler mystery. This is a wonderful, complete work of fiction, and even if you can’t find the first in the series, Case Histories, you can certainly enjoy this one anyway. They are more fun read in order, but rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?


Oh my. I knew I enjoyed this series the first time I read it but I did not really remember why. On this reread I recall that the first reason is Jackson Brodie himself. He is an absolute teddy bear and silly Julia does not recognise a really good man when she sees one.

Secondly of course is the writer's skill. She draws detailed, apparently unrelated, characters and throws them into a succession of different scenes. As the book progresses the reader gets glimpses of coincidences and possible solutions but you have to wait right to the end to find out all of the facts. And some of them turn out to be very surprising indeed!

The Edinburgh setting for this book does it no harm either. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting many of the sights with Jackson and was entertained by his impressions of the Fringe Festival.

I really enjoyed it all and am ready now for book three.


Jackson Brodie Book 2: With the Edinburgh festival in the background, Atkinson takes a road rage incident as the starting point for numerous individual stories (each chapter from the point of view of one of the cast) that start to come together and centre around the main story of the collapse of a property empire. We get to follow the property empire's ignored wife; a successful writer of mainstream idealised crime fiction; a very smart Russian woman looking to make the most of her one-time dependent situation; a single mother chief inspector; and our anti-hero Jackson Brodie accompanying his artist partner, as she works the Festival. Quite a good novel, with some great human insight, nice dark humour and such an original way of looking at crime fiction cases. 7 out of 12.


I am tempted to write this review as "nah," and leave it at that, but I want to do better by it.

I am rating this really low! Surprisingly low. I don't hate this author. This isn't terrible writing. (Possibly, it is rather better writing than the Tana French book I just finished; at least nobody is described as having "hidden levels" in their "X-box game he calls a brain." Left that bit out of my last review, didn't I. Ah.)

"Multiple points of view" does not communicate enough about what this book puts you through. It is a loose bucket of noodles and that bucket is your plot. Enjoy the jumble of noodles. Sometimes bits touch, but all the chapters are so spaced apart, you'll never remember why it matters. You'll think, "I think I'm supposed to be surprised that these two people know each other, but I don't even remember who this second person was the first time." There are at least foooour major povs? A total of SIX, but I guess mainly the four. It's way too many, and they are almost all awful. Martin is just awful. Gloria is pretty awful. Louise is not awful! I liked Louise! Too bad the company she is in. It would have been a good book if we actually learned anything about her.

Because Jackson, our hero. He's awful! And, okay. Partly, I suppose, that is okay. He's a screwed-up anti-hero quasi-detective guy, right? Angst town. This is supposedly appealing. But nothing is given to us for our pains with him here. Talk of his (unseen) daughter and a rehash of his family pain -- exactly the same information we knew from reading his first book -- is all that makes him sympathetic, and that isn't okay. If we have to hear him having all these stupid thoughts about women, watch him making all these really stupid decisions with no explanation, if we have to wait it out while he bores us out of our skulls, we need to know why this man is ours. He is our protagonist, somehow, despite not appearing particularly more than the other third-person perspectives. But what the hell is he here for.

Because every, each one of the chapters is so strangely pointless. How is this possible? These people, they are supposed to be getting us deeper in this twisty interconnected plot noodle thing, but actually they don't! Hardly at all. It is weak weak sauce. The author essentially sets each chapter to wander through the thoughts of all of these people she's created, stream of consciousness less like the good literary kind that reveals existentialist dread and more like someone's really boring diary entry about frozen dinners. Setting up characters, giving them voices, and showing us the everyday of their worlds: this is, I suppose, how you would describe the job of a novelist. Kate Atkinson is doing that job. And then she is going home at 5:00 whether she finished her work for the day or not. Did she write this book on vacation? I don't get it.

This book, though technically a mystery, does not put two clues on one page (thus making us care about making any plot connections whatsoever) until page 290. 290! A dead body (page 100) does not a mystery make. Even a second dead body doesn't make it so. You're supposed to make SOMETHING MYSTERIOUS HAPPEN. And at the end, you cannot just have characters from different threads showing up in the same place and saying stuff. You're supposed to make A STORY TIE UP. I mean, good mysteries are hard, sure; I definitely wouldn't be able to do it. I am also not publishing bestsellers. So duh.

I need to share an example so I do not sound so crazy. There are so many run-on sentences in this book, and I truly don't know how this happened. Just add some semicolons and you've got literature, I swear. The paragraphs will also just wander off in a completely unnecessary direction, and then you are spending your time reading something you would never in a million years wonder or care about:

"E. M. Heller (what kind of a name was that?) was just plain odd, she was either a badly put-together woman or she was a man in drag. Transvestism was a mystery to Jackson, he had never in his life worn a single item of female clothing, apart from once borrowing a cashmere scarf from Julia when they were going for a walk and being troubled all afternoon..."

ETC. ETC. OMG ETC. Who cares. Also what did Ms. Heller ever do to you? She seemed perfectly nice in the last chapter aside from being constantly described as ugly, which hardly seems fair. Also, Louise's annoying colleague who's constantly described as fat and insinuated to be snacking at all times. It's a narrative device! Making people we're not supposed to like reported as unattractive. Too bad that is the same sophisticated device that makes Barbie dolls a thing.

Basically, this was no fun at all. I will, however, read the third book eventually. I already own it, for one thing, but I also need a tiebreaker. Case Histories was so lovely, to me. It has, perhaps, the same structural weaknesses as this book, but just a little fractured weakness and not an all-out house-falling-to-pieces waste-of-time disaster. Also, actually, it was not a very good mystery. Just a good book. I can't figure you out, Kate Atkinson. But I will try.

Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*

I love Kate Atkinson and I particularly love her Jackson Brodie series.A series of seemingly unrelated incidents draw the retired Jackson into a tangled web, earning him his first criminal conviction, and galvanising him into action.An excellent read.


Ex-detective, ex-army, ex-PI, Jackson Brodie is now enjoying living off his unexpected inheritance in France. Julia, his girlfriend, visits often from the UK and they have enjoyed traveling together but she is still pursuing an acting career and seemingly not interested in a more permanent relationship. Jackson is in Edinburgh, accompanying Julia to the Edinburgh Festival where she has a part in an avant-garde production in the Fringe. Queuing to get into a venue Jackson (and many others) witness an incidence of extreme road rage. This sparks off a series of coincidences that spiral Jackson into a vortex of seemingly random events including murders, near drownings, muggings and Jackson's arrest for assault. A number of unrelated people, including a young Russian woman, a lonely crime writer and the wife of a millionare builder will gradually be drawn together with increasingly close connections until all the events fit together, like the Russian Matryoshka dolls in the novel. As Jackson himself remarks to a police detective, "A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen."

Peopled by Kate Atkinson's wonderful characters, this was an engaging and often humorous read. Jackson is just delightful but he deserves better than Julia, who doesn't seem to care nearly enough for him. I really enjoyed Gloria, the wife of a corrupt millionaire builder of dodgy houses, with her pragmatic view of life, as well as DS Louise Monroe with her wayward teenage son and ancient cat, who falls a little in love with Jackson, despite him being "a witness, a suspect and a convicted felon."
I'm looking forward to seeing what Jackson does next.


This is the second novel in the series of which ex-soldier, ex-police officer and newly wealthy ex-private detective Jackson Brodie is the chief protagonist. Just as in the first book in the series, Case Histories, the story is told from the point of view of a number of different characters, whose lives intersect with and whose actions directly and indirectly affect each other.

A recurrent image in the novel is that of Matryoshka dolls – the Russian dolls which fit inside each other. The image is particularly appropriate to describe the way in which the various strands of the plot come together and like Matryoska dolls, Atkinson's characters are intricate and colourful.

The mystery is really not the point of this novel, although there is a final twist which was satisfying, if not a huge surprise. What I enjoyed most are the language and the characters. Atkinson gives her characters individual and very quirky voices and uses internal monologues to great effect. Atkinson’s prose is clean and crisp. She also uses humour particularly well and there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

I love the fact that Atkinson does not write straightforward crime novels, even though the plot centres on traditional crime fiction themes. If Atkinson writes to a formula, then it is her own formula, not a set of rules for mystery writers. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. Jackson Brodie is a most attractive character and it will be a while before I tire of either him or of Atkinson’s style.

Another fun buddy read with my friend Jemidar.