Kate Atkinson quickly became a favorite author of mine with her expansive writing, from her genre-mixed Life After Life to her historical spy novel Transcription. And a gal after my heart, Atkinson has a fantastic P.I. series, too.
The Jackson Brodie series is a must-read for fans of British novels, P.I.s, dark humor, multiple mysteries, character studies, and unique novels that refuse to neatly fit into a genre box. You currently have five novels worthy of a great marathon read, and each has an audiobook if you like British narrators in your ears. Let’s check out Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books in order!
Jackson Brodie is an Englishman, a former policeman working in Edinburgh as a P.I., and single dad. Not only do we get to follow Brodie’s thoughts, but we also get front row seats to many of his clients' thoughts too, making this not only a really interesting P.I. novel filled with mysteries but also almost-character studies. Over three decades, there are three cases (hence the title!): A woman next to her murdered-with-an-ax husband in her kitchen; a child who vanished from her backyard; a man’s daughter murdered at his office. Strap in for some ridiculous characters, three seemingly unrelated cases, cynicism, caustic humor, and plenty of mysteries.
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Atkinson continues her streak of writing interesting characters with empathetic Brodie at the heart. This time we start two years after the end of the first novel, and Brodie is hanging around the Edinburgh festival where his girlfriend is in a terrible production. Retired and wealthy, he’s bored. Until, of course, seemingly unrelated things start to get tied together: a road-rage incident; a disappearing corpse in Cramond Island… Atkinson is truly gifted at weaving together incidents and characters in a unique way as we once again find ourselves rooting for Brodie in a professional and personal capacity.
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A perfect title, really, for the cynicism woven throughout the series, as once again we get multiple incidents separated by decades: a violent attack on a mother and young children while picnicking, with only a six-year-old survivor; a train crash; Brodie stealing a toddlers' hair for paternity testing; the family murderer set to be released from prison; the now-adult survivor disappearing…We bounce between Yorkshire and Edinburgh as strangers' lives continue to intersect with multiple plots and stories being woven together. And since I wouldn’t ever spoil anything, I’ll only vaguely say that previous books' personal things are resolved while new things are left open because of course, you need to keep reading the books.
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Bonus points if you immediately recognized the title as an Emily Dickinson poem! Atkinson delivers past and present mysteries both centering on the murder of prostitutes, one in current time, one in 1975—and of course the “semi-retired” Jackson Brodie, who is unable to not get involved in cases, help people, find himself in trouble, and be constantly followed by coinquidinks! By this point, you’re surely picking up every book for more Brodie and a handful of unique characters that are always interesting, whether lovable or hateable.
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And finally, we have the recent release, which fans waited almost a decade for! Brodie is now living the quiet seaside village life with his lab and visits from his teenager. But that will obviously soon come to an end when he’s once again on the scent of something that needs his attention, something that just happened to gravitate to him: sex trafficking. Fans are rewarded with some past characters, Atkinson’s quiet and sly humor, an interweaving of the at-first-appearances unrelated incidents, complicated characters, and the inner workings of their minds.
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If you’re looking for a unique British P.I. series consistent in its exploration of people’s behavior—from quirks to evils—starring a lovable hero who attracts all sorts, Kate Atkinson’s series will keep you entertained for a long while.
Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh. She won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs. Her last novel, Life After Life, was the winner of the Costa Novel Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize. It was also voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers’ associations on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new novel, A God in Ruins, is a companion to Life After Life, although the two novels can be read independently. She was appointed MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List and was voted Waterstones UK Author of the Year at the 2013 Specsavers National Book Awards.
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Jamie Canavés is a Book Riot contributing editor and Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator who always has a book in one hand. She writes the Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter, never says no to chocolate or ‘80s nostalgia, and spends way too much time asking her goat-dog “What’s in your mouth?!” Tweets: @Oh_Dinky.