What a joy it is to not only discover an author I haven't read before, but to read a book which I did not want to put down! That is the effect that this novel had on me. As a long-time reader of crime fiction, it is also a joy to read such a literate and character-driven mystery, which does not fit neatly into any particular crime fiction sub-genre. While crimes are committed and a detective is there to solve them, neither the crimes themselves nor their resolution are what makes the novel live and breathe.
For me, this is primarily a novel about relationships: in particular the relationships between siblings and those between parents and children. Atkinson describes warm, loving relationships, relationships made brittle by loss and fear, and relationships destroyed by time and circumstance. The theme of "lost girls" is explicitly raised and reiterated within the narrative: a much loved youngest sister is missing, an adored daughter is murdered, another daughter is lost. These are the seemingly random but ultimately inter-connected cases investigated (or not) by Atkinson's detective protagonist, Jackson Brodie. However, Brodie does not stand apart from the victims: his relationship with his daughter and his siblings is woven into and becomes part of the overall story arc.
There is so much I love about this novel. The characters themselves are wonderfully brought to life. The narrative technique, with its shifts in point of view and time, its folding back on itself as parts of the story intersect with other parts is clever, but not annoyingly so. While the narrative does rely on coincidence, in the context of this novel that felt okay. Actually, not just okay, but right, because all readers have experienced random coincidences which come from nowhere and yet profoundly affect their lives. The language is clear and crisp. There is suspense (I wouldn't have read the novel in two sittings had this not been the case!) and there is emotion. I laughed and I cried and from time to time I even gasped. As a reader I can't really ask for much more than that.
If this novel is an example of the general calibre of Kate Atkinson's writing, then I'm really looking forward to reading more. Highly recommended for readers who like character-driven narratives and who don't need their crime fiction to slot neatly into a particular genre.