When I was a little girl, I loved to sit with my great grandpa and put together jigsaw puzzles. He told me:” first you turn over the pieces, and separate out those that belong in the frame. Once the frame is put together, then sort the pieces into colors and put the picture together.”
Reading a mystery by Kate Atkinson is like following that advice in reverse. First, she dumps the pieces of her stories in a big, dramatic heap: murders, kidnappings, mistaken identity, loyalty, country music, lost dogs, little sisters, misunderstood characters. Then, slowly, she turns over the pieces one by one and fits them together until the whole picture begins to emerge. Private detective Jackson Brody is a major piece in that picture. However, until the frame is in place and the picture is clear and bright, the reader isn’t quite sure. Brody seems to be the hero, but….sometimes he seems to be the problem too.
Then she gives the reader side pieces that begin to put together the frame. Here is a train wreck that brings several characters of the story together; here is a dog that Brody rescues and then finds his owner was a mafia thug; here is a retired police detective who spontaneously steals a child and doesn’t know what to do with her. Closer and closer we get, piece by piece the picture becomes sharper, the colors fit together- and out pops the picture- in a way that could never be seen at the beginning.
One more thing about putting a puzzle together with my great grandpa is this: My great grandma always snuck a few pieces out and hid them in her apron pocket. Kate Atkinson does that too. The pieces that are missing belong to Jackson Brody’s own personal puzzle. When will she put them in place? I can’t wait for her next book- maybe it will be the one that finally puts the whole puzzle of his past together.