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ONE GOOD TURN
By Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company, September 2006 ($24.99)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
A gentleman who is not who he seems to be, driving a rented Peugeot through the narrow streets of Edinburgh, slams on his brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The blue Honda behind him hits his bumper. The driver, a giant of a man, jumps out brandishing a baseball bat, and proceeds to bash the first driver in the head. It is the week of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the streets are jam packed with spectators. One of them, Martin, a meek and mild crime novelist, waits for someone to take charge. When nobody else goes to the driver's aid, he steps out and throws his laptop at the giant, who then takes off as the police arrive. The novelist, who goes by the pseudonym Alex Blake, feels some responsibility for the man whose life he saved, and goes with him to the hospital. The doctor says the fellow can go home as long as somebody is with him, and Martin takes on that role as well. When he wakes up the next morning to an unpleasant surprise, he regrets his Good Samaritan act, and as time goes on he wishes he'd never tried to help his fellow man.
He goes home to another situation he wishes he'd never gotten into. He had offered to put up Richard Moat, a has-been standup comedian and a casual acquaintance, while the man did a few shows in town. Richard is a total slob who feels free to take full advantage of Blake's hospitality, including "borrowing" his car and his Rolex. Pretty soon Martin becomes aware that someone is stalking him, and it's not a crazed fan.
The story continues on through the eyes of several of the witnesses, including ex-cop Jackson Brodie, who's been dragged to the festival by his tiresome would-be actress lady friend, Julia. There are further acts of violence and complicated situations, including a fatal case of mistaken identity.
"No good deed goes unpunished" could be Martin's mantra. "Don't trust anybody" might be another. No one in the divergent cast of characters is who he or she seem to be, and everyone has a secret.
Atkinson, who has achieved success in literary fiction, turned her hand to literary suspense in 2004 with CASE HISTORIES, which became a best seller in the US and UK. This is a worthy follow-up, with interesting characters, a complex plot, and a colorful portrayal of Edinburgh and its denizens.
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