One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson is one twisted mystery novel. Imagine a book of stories within stories within stories, a labyrinth of secrets, deception, murder, and mistaken identity wherein each chapter reveals tidbits of information that hint at the sinister and forge increasingly complex connections between the characters. This is One Good Turn.

Illustrating that a single moment has the capacity to change lives forever, One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson begins with a brutal act of road rage at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. An eclectic and seemingly random cast of characters emerge as either participants in or witnesses to the attack. One of these characters is Paul Bradley, the mysterious victim whose apparent knowledge of a darker world is filled with malevolent undertones.

There is also second-rate novelist Martin Canning, a weak-willed self-confessed pacifist whose fantasy life is ultimately more fulfilling than his own whitewashed reality. Martin becomes an unlikely hero and the temporary custodian of the recovering Bradley. When reports of the latter’s death are greatly exaggerated he is targeted as an unwitting murder suspect.

Jackson Brody, a somewhat lost former police detective is concurrently a victim and a suspect as he stumbles upon a crime whose existence is unproven, His own credibility in question, his investigative juices kick into high gear as he takes matters into his own hands.  Newly promoted police inspector Louise Monroe becomes an uncertain ally as she attempts to balance her demanding career and the single mothering of a teenage son for whom petty larceny is cool foreplay to a mutinous future.

Then we have Gloria Hatter, soon to be widowed by her philandering and unscrupulous husband, and Richard Mott, the washed-up comedian who brought everyone together.

Kate Atkinson describes the players with such depth and richness from their everyday lives to their psyches that they become human and very real; seemingly average, normal people caught in a vortex of extraordinary events.

In One Good Turn, the latest mystery novel by Kate Atkinson, there are no innocents. Everyone has a secret, either held near the heard or withheld by someone close. All are lost and searching for crumbs of satisfaction to pull their lives into a meaningful existence.

Immediately gripping, One Good Turn is a book that begs to be read, from the intriguing cover depicting a broken in door to the very last page. Atkinson is clearly an intelligent, educated, and highly creative writer. She sees the world through fresh eyes, employing wonderful, inventive metaphors and occasional gems of dark humor. She teases, manipulates, and sometimes frustrates the reader by revealing information that serves not to answer questions but to produce others and deepen the mystery. All is rarely as it seems.

Clarity is eventually delivered and One Good Turn culminates in one final surprise.

Not for the lazy mind, this mystery novel is one of those books you mull over even after the last page is turned. It is a compelling and interesting read.

One Good Turn
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company 2006
432 pages

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