Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros58Literature’s Exception(s)Kate Atkinson’s Crime Fiction: Ex...

Literature’s Exception(s)

Kate Atkinson’s Crime Fiction: Exception as a Rule

L’exception comme règle dans les romans policiers de Kate Atkinson
Armelle Parey


Cet article évoque la relation entre le roman ‘policier’ et l’exception dans les romans de Kate Atkinson qui ont le personnage de Jackson Brodie pour protagoniste. Par définition, les romans policiers reposent sur la notion d’exception puisque la déviation de la norme constitue le point de départ de l’intrigue qui évolue autour de ruptures de l’ordinaire, de rebondissements sous forme de meurtres ou de vols. Au lieu de minimiser le rôle de l’exception dans une quête de réalisme, Atkinson utilise l’exception comme ressort essentiel de ses récits tout en mettant en place un réalisme auto-réflexif, le tout donnant lieu à des romans policiers uniques en leur genre. Cet article examine ainsi d’abord quelques aspects par lesquels Kate Atkinson s’approprie le genre du roman policier ou roman de détection pour le dévier et offrir une exception dans le genre, puis certaines formes prises par l’exception, à savoir l’usage du hasard et de la coïncidence comme stratégies narratives.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 Since they bear Atkinson’s distinctive mark in terms of plotting, developing her characters and sel (...)

1Like John Banville, Julian Barnes, and Susan Hill amongst others, Kate Atkinson seemed to go from literary fiction to detective fiction when she published Case Histories (2004) in which she introduced Jackson Brodie who next appeared in four novels: One Good Turn (2006), When Will There Be Good News? (2008), Started Early, Took my Dog (2010) and Big Sky (2019). While Banville and Barnes have used a pseudonym for their detective fiction as if to signal a distinction, Hill and Atkinson have kept the same name for all their production, suggesting a turn or fluctuation in their writing. Indeed, I would argue that, rather than an exception in Atkinson’s production,1 her detective novels may be part of a postmodern deviation in the genre, described as follows by Stefania Ciocia, when referring to:

postmodern writers, whose critique of traditional Western philosophical systems and celebration of randomness and indeterminacy find fertile ground in the disruption of the rational side of detective fiction, and particularly in the parody of all its rules. . . . Common traits in postmodern subversions of the detective formula are the prominent function played by chance in the unfolding of the plot, the deliberate confusion of the roles of the investigator, the criminal and the victim, and the inconclusiveness or the absence of solution. These novels also flaunt a high degree of intertextuality and often revolve around the investigation of linguistic crimes, and epistemological and ontological questions. (116)

  • 2 One may think here of Rachel Cusk’s novels to which Atkinson’s work has been opposed (see Dee), eve (...)
  • 3 The phrase is A.S. Byatt’s in Passions of the Mind (5).

2Most of the traits mentioned here appear in Atkinson’s crime fiction and a number of them will be addressed here. Indeed, in this paper, I also want to discuss the relationship between crime fiction and exception in her novels. Crime novels depend on exception. They follow a pattern and framework particular to the genre but they can be said to be traditionally based on exception, first because deviation from the ordinary is the starting point of a plot, the peripeteia that changes the initial situation, especially in detective fiction. Perturbation initiates the investigation by the detective whose role and aim is to figure out why, how and by whom this disruption was caused. Secondly, crime novels can be said to be based on exception in the sense that they thrive on ruptures in the ordinary, on adventures, on twists and turns in the plot in the shape of theft and murders (Decout 21). Therefore, because they resort to exception, despite a realist setting, crime novels are necessarily at quite a distance from ‘reality’ and they lose in realism (Decout 22). Contemporary French crime novelists try to constrain their reliance on exception and excess in order to be more realistic (Decout 22). Atkinson takes the opposite direction: hers are the opposite of novels of the ordinary, of the non-event.2 For instance, while a classic crime novel usually focuses on one crime or, more often, on the pursuit of one murderer in particular, Case Histories, her first Jackson Brodie novel, begins with three crimes, all unrelated. However, my contention is that Atkinson produces idiosyncratic crime fiction that is out of the norm notably because she uses exception as a major component of her narratives while laying claim to a form of ‘self-conscious realism’.3  The notion of exception illustrates the tension at work in Atkinson’s crime fiction: the expectations or necessities linked to the genre working in conjunction with a treatment that aims at making free from it. This essay thus discusses a few aspects by which Atkinson’s crime fiction appropriates the pattern and somewhat deviates from it, offering an exception in the genre and secondly, the forms of exception, i.e. the recourse to chance and coincidence as narrative strategies.

An Exception in the Genre

  • 4 ‘Now that we have lost interest in the puzzle story, now that we demand rounded characters, plots w (...)

3In Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, the investigation moves slowly as room is made not only for the detective’s but for many other characters’ stories. Here, as in the rest of Atkinson’s production, there is a large cast of fleshed out characters and most characters, not just the protagonist, are individualised as they are detailed or given a past or used as focalisers. The individualisation of characters or the presence of round characters rather than stereotypes may be an overall trend introduced by ‘literary’ writers as can be observed of Hill’s and Banville’s heroes that were developed at the same time.4 For Atkinson (talking about Started Early, Took my Dog),

Mainstream crime is very end-driven: there’s a plot that goes directly from A to B, and all the detective is doing is going about picking up clues. That’s important, but it’s not what these books are about. The interesting thing to me is character—I could have written a whole book about Tilly, for example—and character is unfashionable in crime. (Atkinson 2010)

4Indeed, the character of the detective is not reduced to its function but is developed to include his past and present. In Case Histories, Jackson Brodie is introduced professionally (ex-army, a former police inspector, then a private detective) but also has a private life: he is divorced and feels diminished by this. He has a daughter on whom he dotes and feels paranoid about. In an analepsis that is developed over a whole chapter we learn about Brodie’s own trauma: the rape and murder of his own sister when he was a teenager. This fleshing out or ‘interiority’ (Brownson 138) of the detective is a recent phenomenon as classic detective fiction prohibits the narrative to wander away from the crime and its investigation. Agatha Christie’s Poirot thus remains a one-dimensional character.

5One of the rules of the genre of detective fiction is the presence of some investigative figure. Atkinson thus uses the stock figure of the private investigator but appropriates it. When Jackson first appears, age 45, in Case Histories (69), he is introduced in a stereotypical pursuit for a P.I.: tailing a presumedly unfaithful wife at the request of her husband, which means sitting in a second-hand car, chain-smoking, bored, which is the occasion to reflect at length on his life and his recent broken marriage. This stock situation is further humorously parodied by the fact that Brodie is otherwise employed by 90-plus Binky Rain to explain the disappearance of her cats.

6If Jackson Brodie is de facto the hero of the novels, if only because he is the only recurring protagonist, the narrative does not portray him as such, both in terms of his characteristics and also of his role in the narratives. Indeed, Atkinson’s detective is rather ordinary in the sense that he does not have any particular gift or ability—as opposed to Holmes or Poirot—but is more intuitive—like Maigret or Morse. He has hunches more than actual method and deduction technique. He thus distrusts a character because she is ‘looking up to the right’ when telling her story in Case Histories, which he thinks is a sign of lying (284). Rather than a central figure, Brodie can be perceived as a ‘catalyst’, as Glenda Norquay puts it (121): he is the character through which the various threads of the narrative converge and get altered. Indeed, he seems sometimes to be pushed to the sides of the narrative or, to put it another way, he recedes in the background of another character’s story (and becomes a secondary character in When Will There be Good News?). Besides, he is not very effective. In the investigation in Started Early, Took my Dog, Brodie is constantly overtaken by a sort of doppelgänger who bears the same inverted initials (Brian Jackson) and is always one step ahead of him. As his employer Chrystal Holroyd puts it in Big Sky, after Brodie has seen her be beaten up and her children kidnapped, ‘“I’m not paying you, you know. You’ve done fuck all”’ (Big Sky 257), adding ‘“Claims he’s a detective, . . . but he’s shit at detecting”’ (Big Sky 258). Indeed, in this latest instalment of the Brodie sequence, Jackson does not solve any mystery nor really achieves any task he has been employed for: unbeknownst to him, his clients eventually take the law into their hands: Mrs Trotter hires Tatiana to kill her unfaithful husband (345) and Chloë’s parents deal with the paedophile who attempted to groom their daughter online (235). The one girl he directly finds and saves is the young kidnapped girl whom he traces of his own initiative (Big Sky 50–51). Brodie is significantly present at the final scene to falsify what happened and pretend that the villains shot each other instead of being shot by abused girls and a former unwitting friend disgusted by what they have done. In this way, Big Sky blurs the reassuring distinction between investigator, criminal and victim.

7In Atkinson’s crime narrative, the overall fleshing out of characters participates in realism which gives rise to feminist concerns: as Glenda Norquay noticed, ‘the intersections of women’s lives and criminality become an increasing focus of attention in the series’ (122). Indeed, not only are women very often targets or victims of criminality but they are trapped in domestic roles and struggling to get out while the novels make fun of the domestic ideal. For instance, in Case Histories alone, women of all ages and at different times of the twentieth century are broken by their marriage and/or overwhelmed by their husbands, harassed by the ensuing motherhood (Rosemary in 1970, pregnant mother of 4 daughters and Victor’s wife; Victor’s mother considered as insane because of a severe post-partum depression [Case Histories 21] in the 1920s; young mother Michelle in 1979, who tries to prepare A Levels while having the perfect home, attacks her husband/boyfriend out of frustration with her life). Or, in a subtler way, they just lead boring lives like Nicola Spencer in 2004, the suburban wife Jackson is hired to shadow at the beginning of the novel. In Big Sky, marriage is equated with domestic prostitution though Crystal, a victim of child prostitution, is later happy to marry for money.

8Here as in her earlier Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Human Croquet, Atkinson debunks the myths of family, motherhood and the mother-child love bond. In One Good Turn, Louise suspects she might like her cat more than her son and Gloria is estranged from her children who only use her as a foil. In When Will There be Good News?, Joanna Hunter is ready to do anything to save her baby from a traumatic past but in Started Early, Took my Dog, prostitution runs in the family, as both Kelly and her daughter Chevaunne have the same trade, and the would-be loving and protecting mothers are the women who cannot have children—Kitty (a former model permanently damaged by an illegal abortion), Margaret (Ray’s wife), actress Tilly, police Tracy.

9Atkinson’s Brodie novels are not an instance of detective fiction in which the reader actively looks for the solution to the mystery and the author of the crime. In Case Histories, the reader follows Jackson’s enquiries but the very multiplicity of crimes and the fact that they are unconnected dilutes their importance in the economy of the book. In One Good Turn, described in the paratext as ‘a jolly murder mystery’, Atkinson goes on to play with the conventions, to the extent that one may wonder if One Good Turn is a murder mystery at all. This novel contains the (obligatory) character of the private detective but he is ironically not working anymore. In fact, after the first book, by the end of which he has acquired an unexpected fortune, Brodie no longer is officially a detective. Moreover, in One Good Turn, there are murders but they do not articulate the plot. Jackson first spots a corpse floating in Cromond, but the body disappears and the matter is ignored. Then there is the murder of comedian Richard Moat but no mystery at all as to the perpetrator (Terence Smith). Some sort of formal investigation only actually starts when Martin Canning asks for Brodie’s help three quarters into the book. In fact, in One Good Turn as in When Will There be Good News?, the reader’s attention is diverted and the actual crime that underlies the whole plot and narrative goes unnoticed until it is revealed at the end.

10Self-consciousness prevails as Atkinson playfully resorts to clichés about detective fiction, having her protagonist declare ‘“The plot thickens”, he said, and wished he hadn’t said that because it sounded like something out of a bad detective novel. “I think we have a suspect.” That didn’t sound much better’ (Case Histories 328). In her second Brodie novel, One Good Turn, Atkinson foregrounds the genre she is playing with more than writing with the addition of a tongue-in-cheek subtitle ‘a Jolly murder mystery’ (itself an oxymoron) and the inclusion of a crime writer amongst her main protagonists.

11Intertextuality also plays a major part. The reference to other texts constantly diverts the reader from ‘the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion’ (Van Dine, rule 16); it adds layers to the fleshing out of the characters and to the narrative. When Brodie turns up on her doorstep, Gloria’s reaction is ‘An inspector calls’ (461), assuming he is a fraud officer. Her announcement is also an allusion to J.B. Priestley’s play (1945) based on the arrival of an inspector whose actual identity turns out to be unclear, as is echoed in Gloria’s private interrogations: ‘. . . trying to remember if he had shown her any ID. Where was his warrant card?’ (461). Significantly, in Priestley’s play, all the characters turn out to be linked as they all took some part in bringing about the downfall of a socially inferior girl. The reference therefore reinforces the interlinking of the characters in Atkinson’s novel. Another similarity between the two works that is foregrounded by the allusion is the fact that they are not just detective stories ‘J. B. Priestley’s play . . . is a morality play disguised as a detective thriller” (Chris Power). Brodie is associated to Priestley’s inspector who is “a moral force, one which mercilessly pursues the wrongs committed by the Birlings and Gerald’ (Chris Power) and whose final speech, Act III, forcefully states ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other’ (207). Just like Priestley’s play, Atkinson’s One Good Turn denounces the human damage done by ruthless capitalism, now embodied by Graham Hatter’s empire and the foreign girls of ‘Favours’ employed and crushed by it. One difference however is that at least some of the downtrodden females (here Gloria and Tatiana) are now empowered in Atkinson’s novel.

12The Brodie novels also feature remarks about language and phrases commonly taken for granted, now defamiliarised by a character stumbling on them (as Isobel reflects on phrases to do with time in Human Croquet). Gloria thus comments on the marketing of new houses: ‘It had been known as a “starter home”. No one sold “finisher home”, did they?’ (489). Tracy notes about her newly acquired child: ‘Courtney was astonishingly reckless, a kid without reck was a dangerous thing’ (Started Early, Took my Dog 207).

The Forms of Exception: Chance and Coincidence as Narrative Strategies

13In Atkinson’s crime fiction, the sense of exception may be brought about by chance or lead to coincidence which both are and cause noticeable breaks in the narrative pattern. Chance and coincidence are two structural devices that have often been decried as marks of excess and at odds with realism. Common opinion is summed by David Lodge: ‘Coincidence, which surprises us in real life with symmetries we don’t expect to find there, is all too obviously a structural device in fiction, and an excessive reliance on it can jeopardize the verisimilitude of a narrative’ (150). On the other hand, for Balzac, ‘Le hasard est le plus grand romancier du monde : pour être fécond, il n’y a qu’à l’étudier’ (52), and, more recently, for Paul Auster,

From an aesthetic point of view, the introduction of chance elements in fiction probably creates as many problems as it solves. I’ve come in for a lot of abuse from critics because of it. In the strictest sense of the word, I consider myself a realist. Chance is a part of reality: we are continually shaped by the forces of coincidence, the unexpected occurs with almost numbing regularity in all our lives. (277)

14Rather than oppose exception (in the guise of chance and coincidence) and realism, Atkinson offers an interesting combination of the two in her crime fiction (as she inscribes exception in the daily lives of up to then ordinary characters). We shall thus read the role of chance, the use of coincidence, both embodiments of exception, as narrative strategies.

15The three unrelated stories with which Case Histories opens each have a realistic background with a clear spatio-temporal setting to introduce characters whose lives are suddenly disrupted, seemingly by chance—when the irrational, the abnormal, the extra-ordinary, the unexplained apparently invades and disrupts the lives of characters. Murders, attacks, disappearances, to be expected in crime fiction, are here emphatically presented as disruption in ordinary lives as the narratives introduce characters engaged in ordinary situations (photocopying a file in a lawyer’s office in Case Histories, getting off a bus and walking the last stretch home in When Will There be Good News?, getting caught in traffic/lost in an unknown city in One Good Turn) whose lives are suddenly interrupted or take an unexpected turn for no reason, be it foreseen or explained.

16Chance is a narrative strategy because it makes the plot move forward. The aim of the detection story is indeed to try and make sense of the apparent randomness and chaos, to constrain what happened: to make it acceptable to reason. For instance, in Case Histories, Theo wants to find out who killed his daughter apparently out of the blue and hires Jackson to do so. Theo needs to inscribe the event into a logical coherent sequence and the narrative of Jackson’s investigation does just this.

17One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? respectively open with road rage violence and a murderous attack on a country lane, which consequently seem random and unjustified. The initial viewpoint in One Good Turn is that of the victim, Paul Bradley/Ray, who sees his life unexpectedly diverted by this attack. So does Martin Canning, author of soft-boiled detective fiction, who throws his bag at Bradley’s aggressor to stop him. Contrary to what the reader might expect, the narratives leave these events unexplained. These are ‘orphan events’ (Anne Duprat, my translation) in the sense that no cause, no explanation is given for the attacks. However, they are not ‘sterile events’ (Duprat) as the narrative develops the consequences or chain of events deriving from these attacks. The rest of the novel will account for almost every character’s movement or presence on or near the scene, everything apart from the road rage incident. In When Will There Be Good News?, the narrative follows the traumatised survivor of the chance attack, Joanna Hunter who never recovers from the event nor accepts it and organises for the death of the killer twenty years later. In both cases, the chance event is enmeshed in a narrative chain, even if it is not an explanatory one.

18Atkinson draws attention to this combination of chance, logic and consequence by inserting a traditional proverb as the epigraph to Started Early, Took My Dog:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost
for want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost . . .

19Coincidence is another aspect of exception insofar as it sets up an unexpected symmetry or connection. In Hilary P. Dannenberg’s definition, ‘Coincidence is a constellation of two or more apparently random events in space and time with an uncanny or striking connection’ (93; emphasis in the original). Coincidences abound in Atkinson’s crime fiction. For instance, in One Good Turn, Gloria Hatter, Martin Canning, a couple of teenagers and Jackson Brodie all seem to be there by chance but a reason is later given for each of them to be there (what led them to be there), including Bradley whose reason for being in Edinburgh is only revealed at the very end of the novel. The characters present on the scene lead to other characters who turn out to be interconnected: one of the teenagers’ mother is D.I. Louise Munro whose house was built by Gloria’s husband, Graham Hatter, who was one of Tatiana’s clients; and Louise sees a show by some has-been comedian whom we recognize as being the self-invited host at Martin’s house.

  • 5 ‘The emphasis is on the network of links between characters who are uncannily connected by the exis (...)

20Atkinson makes use of what Dannenberg calls ‘coincidental relationships’ in which characters discover connections that were unknown to them.5 Such is the case at some point in When Will There be Good News? where it conveys a touch of comedy when Reggie realizes that Brodie and Louise know each other. Alternatively, in Big Sky, when Chrystal realises that her husband was involved in the organisation that sexually exploited her as a child, she kills him. However, coincidental encounters or relationships do not systematically lead to recognition and what features in Atkinson’s novels is mostly what Dannenberg identifies as ‘postmodernist coincidence’: ‘it is generally the reader on the extradiegetic level who is the one capable of performing the act of analogical recognition, while the characters themselves exist in benign ignorance of the fact that they are figures in an interlocking constellation of correspondances’ (Dannenberg 106–7). For instance, in Case Histories the girl begging in the street who saves Theo turns out to be Michele’s daughter; Julia and Amelia happen to be around to help and save Theo from a bout of asthma. However, while the reader notices the coincidence (because he has some knowledge of a ‘prehistory’ (Dannenberg 94), the characters remain oblivious to it, and nothing comes of it in terms of plot. There is no diegetic ‘discovery’. Indeed, contrary to the use of coincidence made by Dickens, for instance, in Oliver Twist, which suggests some overall reassuring meaningful order, the use of coincidence in Atkinson’s novels reinforces the atmosphere and role of chance. For instance, towards the end of Case Histories, a ‘coincidental encounter’ (Dannenberg) takes place. On his flight to France, Jackson recognises Nicola Spencer, whose husband paid Jackson to tail her at the beginning of the novel. But he looks into a ‘bland, indifferent face’ (368) and the recognition is only one-way.

21Very often, it is up to the reader to notice the coincidences. The story unfolds through various focalisers: third-person narration limiting itself to the point of view of one of the characters in the same narrative time means that temporal narrative linearity is disrupted. Indeed, characters crisscross each other’s path and the same event and same point in time reappear viewed from a different angle and the reader assembles the diverse representations or perceptions of the same event into a broader picture. For instance, in When Will There be Good News?, the train crash is narrated through Jackson’s point of view then Reggie’s (181) which gives a broader understanding of what happened. In assembling the various narratives, the reader will notice recurring elements from which to draw conclusions.

22In many cases, the elements may not assemble and do not cohere. For instance, in One Good Turn, the corpse Jackson finds near Cramond Island coincidentally wears the same ear-rings as Tatiana, previously noticed by Gloria when she is talking with Tatiana. The reader therefore interprets the coincidence by identifying Tatiana as the corpse. This is however a case of ‘co-incidence’ that is misleading, a red herring which has a self-reflexive value as the reader is reminded of his situation. In this particular case, an explanation will be given later for this coincidence. The pleasure of the explanation is not denied but delayed. In Atkinson’s crime novels, abounding coincidences and chance encounters do not necessarily lead to a development in the plot or to an explanation but force a form of self-reflexivity as they play on the reader’s expectations of a coherence and deflate them.

23Coincidence is also used in a traditional manner, revealed at the end, for a surprise effect. Despite Jackson’s weariness and his leitmotiv that ‘a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen’ (One Good Turn 472; When Will There be Good News? 402) the character understands too late that the perfect wife met through a series of coincidences and who co-incides so well with him is a complete sham, fabricated to seduce him and steal his money.

24Atkinson refers to her Brodie novels as ‘jigsaw novels’ (Guardian Podcast), assembling diverse elements, going back and forth in the narrative. The term ‘jigsaw’ is sometimes used to refer to the classic detective novel: the process by which the protagonist tries to assemble the clues into the story of the crime to find its author and implies a complete, finite picture that does not necessarily appear at the end of Atkinson’s novels: no overall exposition of the naked truth at the level of society. In Atkinson’s case, the word applies mostly to the reader’s activity.

25In the Brodie sequence, from One Good Turn onwards, Atkinson applies, in an obvious manner emphasised by Brodie’s remarks, ‘the paranoid logic of the “noir” plot, where everything seems to happen for a reason, and there are no such things as accidents’ (Nicol 245). Yet, Atkinson uses chance and coincidence with a high degree of self-consciousness. In One Good Turn, when most of the main characters gather for different reasons at Gloria’s house, ‘Jackson began to wonder if he was on some new kind of TV reality show, a cross between Candid Camera and a murder mystery weekend’ (One Good Turn 464). Through Jackson’s reaction, Atkinson playfully flaunts the idea that too many coincidences offend verisimilitude. Moreover, remarks on coincidence run like a leitmotiv through the novels from One Good Turn onwards: ‘what had Jackson said? A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen’ (One Good Turn 472), repeated in When Will There Be Good News? (402). The sentence reappears verbatim in Big Sky as a defining belief of Brodie’s (107, 132) and under various forms ‘you say coincidence, he thought, I say connection’ (One Good Turn 369), ‘everything was connected. Everything in the whole world’ (One Good Turn 463).


26Atkinson has created her own genre of crime fiction that constitutes an exception in the genre because of the individualisation of characters, not limited to that of the detective figure, and a strong dose of self-consciousness. Besides, if crime fiction usually tries to hide its reliance on exception, Atkinson’s novels flaunt theirs in the guise of chance and coincidence as obvious structural strategies. Therefore, instead of inscribing her fiction in the genre (as it should do if we believe Maxime Decout), Atkinson’s use of exception distances her novels from the genre and challenges the readers whose expectations are disrupted. Rather than oppose exception and realism, Atkinson combines them in her crime fiction. While playing the game of the puzzle story, she also lays claim to a form of self-conscious realism since what eventually comes uppermost for the reader is the characters and their stories.

Haut de page


Atkinson, Kate, Case Histories (2004), London: Doubleday, 2006.

Atkinson, Kate, One Good Turn (2006), London: Doubleday, 2007.

Atkinson, Kate, When Will There Be Good News? (2008), London: Doubleday, 2009.

Atkinson, Kate, Started Early, Took my Dog (2010), London: Doubleday, 2011.

Atkinson, Kate, Interview. The Scotsman 17 August 2010, last accessed at on 15 February 2020.

Atkinson, Kate, The Guardian Books Podcast 11 September 2018, last accessed at on 13 September 2018.

Atkinson, Kate, Big Sky. London: Doubleday, 2019.

Auster, Paul, ‘Interview with Larry McCaffery and Linda Gregory’ (1989-90), The Art of Hunger: Essays, Prefaces and Interviews and the Red Notebook (1992), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993, 277–320.

Brownson, Charles, The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

Balzac, Honoré de, ‘Avant-propos’ (1842), La Comédie humaine vol. 1, Paris: Seuil, 1965. 51–56.

Byatt, A.S., Passions of the Mind. London: Chatto & Windus, 1991.

Ciocia, Stefania, ‘Rules are Meant to be Broken: Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Crime Writing’, ed. Christine Berberich, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Popular Fiction, London: Bloomsbury, 2015, 108–28.

Dannenberg, Hilary P., Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Decout, Maxime, ‘Le Roman policier: une machine à imagination’, Littérature 190 (2018) : 21–34.

Dee, Jonathan, ‘Kate Atkinson’s Spy Novel Makes the Genre New’, The New Yorker 17 September 2018, last accessed at on 23 March 2019.

Duprat, Anne, ‘Contingence/consequence : le hasard et le récit’, Séminaire séminaire CRAL-EHESS, 6 novembre 2018.

Hanson, Clare, ‘Fiction: From Realism to Postmodernism and Beyond’, The History of British Women’s Writing, 1970-Present, eds. Mary Eagleton and Emma Parker, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 23–35.

Lodge, David, The Art of Fiction (1992), London: Vintage, 2011.

Nicol, Bran, ‘The Hard Boiled Detective: Dashiel Hammett’, ed. Christine Berberich, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Popular Fiction, Bloomsbury, 2015, 241–53.

Norquay, Glenda, ‘Kate Atkinson: Plotting to Be Read’, The Contemporary British Novel since 2000, ed. James Acheson, Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2017, 119–28.

Power, Chris, ‘An Introduction to An Inspector Calls’, 2017, last accessed at on 15 February 2020.

Priestley, J.B., An Inspector Calls (1947), Time and the Conways and other Plays, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982, 157–220.

Van Dine, S.S., ‘Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories’ (1928), last accessed at on 15 February 2020.

Haut de page


1 Since they bear Atkinson’s distinctive mark in terms of plotting, developing her characters and self-reflexivity.

2 One may think here of Rachel Cusk’s novels to which Atkinson’s work has been opposed (see Dee), even though Clare Hanson places both Atkinson and Cusk in the category of the neo-domestic (Hanson 31).

3 The phrase is A.S. Byatt’s in Passions of the Mind (5).

4 ‘Now that we have lost interest in the puzzle story, now that we demand rounded characters, plots with some psychological complexity and that include some bit of the workings of chance, conflicted motivations, uncertain self-knowledge—in fact, many of the features found in a literary novel—our tastes are somewhat at odds [with the classic detective story]’ (Brownson 136).

5 ‘The emphasis is on the network of links between characters who are uncannily connected by the existence of multiple relationships. Here, accordingly, recognition takes the form of the discovery of connections by a character’ (Dannenberg 97).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Armelle Parey, « Kate Atkinson’s Crime Fiction: Exception as a Rule »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 58 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2020, consulté le 14 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Armelle Parey

Armelle Parey is a senior lecturer at the Université de Caen-Normandie, France. Her research focuses on contemporary English-speaking fiction and she has co-directed several collections of essays and special issues on the question of endings: Happy Endings and Films (Michel Houdiard, 2010); Literary Happy Endings, Closure for Sunny Imaginations (Shaker Verlag, 2012), L’Inachevé ou l’ère des possibles dans la littérature anglophone, Récits ouverts et incomplets (Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2014); Character migration in Anglophone Literature (E-Réa, revue électronique d’études sur le monde anglophone 13.1, 2015); Adapting Endings from Book to Screen (Routledge, 2019). She also co-edited A.S. Byatt, Before and after Possession: Recent Critical Approaches (Book Practices and Textual Itineraries 8, PU de Nancy-Editions de Lorraine, 2017) and edited Prequels, Coquels and Sequels in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction (Routledge, 2018).

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search