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Kate Atkinson Returns with Thriller 'One Good Turn'

It takes almost a hundred pages for the bodies to start piling up in Kate Atkinson's new murder mystery One Good Turn. That's not the way it's usually done, but then Atkinson is hardly your typical mystery writer.

She wasn't a mystery writer at all when her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the prestigious Whitbread Prize. Four books later, Atkinson's first foray into thrillers Case Histories, earned Stephen King's extravagant praise.

It turned out that Atkinson, already a literary darling, can plot and twist and kill with the best of them. But it's the way she flouts murder mystery convention, with such wit and vigor and lovely irony, you're happy just to be along for the ride.

One Good Turn starts in Edinburg, when Martin Canning, a fussy and faint-hearted bachelor, comes to town for an annual arts festival. He's waiting in line when, almost by accident, he single-handedly stops an act of murderous road rage. Martin's a mystery writer, a good core character for a thriller. But this being Atkinson, he's a bit of a twit. Atkinson tells us:

Martin bumbles his way to and through the heart of the puzzle but comes nowhere near the solution. Along the way, Atkinson skewers the murder mystery genre, stocking her story with enough characters for an alphabetical series. There's a savvy ex-cop, a hard-boiled policeman, a sweet young thing, a femme fatale, some punky teenagers, even an innocent cat. But Atkinson's too smart to let this turn into a game of Clue. We're not going to find Professor Plum in the parlor with the candlestick.

Edinburg, Atkinson's adopted hometown and a city she clearly adores, gets some of the best lines in the book. Sure, we get Old World atmosphere -- ancient houses and age-old cobblestone streets. But we also get the modern world, the one with cell-phone cameras and digital chips, text messages, memory sticks and ring tones.

With its sprawling cast and fast-paced plot, One Good Turn is a Rubik's Cube of a book. The more you twist and spin its elements, the more mixed up it gets. Then suddenly -- CLICK -- it comes together. Four hundred pages, gone in a flash. When a book is this good, you can't help thinking One Good Turn deserves… a sequel.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Veronique de Turenne