Summary and book reviews of When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News?

A Novel

by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News?
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 400 pages
    Jan 2010, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Patty Magyar

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Book Summary

Three lives come together in unexpected and thrilling ways in Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?

On a hot summer day, Joanna Mason's family slowly wanders home along a country lane. A moment later, Joanna's life is changed forever...

On a dark night thirty years later, ex-detective Jackson Brodie finds himself on a train that is both crowded and late. Lost in his thoughts, he suddenly hears a shocking sound...

At the end of a long day, 16-year-old Reggie is looking forward to watching a little TV. Then a terrifying noise shatters her peaceful evening. Luckily, Reggie makes it a point to be prepared for an emergency...

These three lives come together in unexpected and deeply thrilling ways in the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, the critically acclaimed author who Harlan Coben calls "an absolute must-read."


The heat rising up from the tarmac seemed to get trapped between the thick hedges that towered above their heads like battlements.

"Oppressive," their mother said. They felt trapped too. "Like the maze at Hampton Court," their mother said. "Remember?"

"Yes," Jessica said.

"No," Joanna said.

"You were just a baby," their mother said to Joanna. "Like Joseph is now." Jessica was eight, Joanna was six.

The little road (they always called it "the lane") snaked one way and then another, so that you couldn't see anything ahead of you. They had to keep the dog on the lead and stay close to the hedges in case a car "came out of nowhere." Jessica was the eldest so she was the one who got to hold the dog's lead all the time. She spent a lot of her time training the dog, "Heel!" and "Sit!" and "Come!" Their mother said she wished Jessica were as obedient as the dog. Jessica was always the one who was in charge. Their mother said to Joanna, "It's all right to have a mind of your ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions and topics for discussion

  1. Many of the characters in When Will There Be Good News? have lost family members: Joanna loses her mother, sister, and baby brother in the novel's opening pages; Reggie's mother has recently drowned; and Jackson lost his mother, brother, and sister in the course of a year when he was twelve. In view of these tragedies, compare Joanna's, Reggie's, and Jackson's respective outlooks on life with those of the other characters in the novel.
  2. The question of Nathan's paternity haunts Jackson Brodie. Why? How might Jackson's life change if he discovered he was Nathan's father? Is Jackson a good father to Marlee?
  3. With When Will There Be Good News? &#...

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BookBrowse Review


When Will There Be Good News is very readable, although complex, it is not the kind of complexity wherein you must go back and read and reread again. The characters and their unfolding relationships to each other become a part of you. You will yearn for everyone to end their lives happy and unscarred even as quite horrible actions and events unfold all over Edinburgh. Kate Atkinson’s newest book is not a quiet ride…it is a roller coaster of surprises and thrills and chills that will leave you feeling a bit breathless as you read its final chapter.   (Reviewed by Patty Magyar).

Full Review Members Only (440 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Carolyn See

Thank God, in these hard times, for a cheerful, ghoulish, gory book like this…This is a grand mystery, with plenty of misdeeds and overwrought coincidences, as well as quotes from Scots ballads, old nursery rhymes and the classics, so you can feel edified while being creeped out—as you wait for that happy ending we all long for, and think we deserve.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

…[a] deliciously underhanded, echo-filled novel…good as it is, this latest Brodie book nearly bursts at the seams. It shows off an imagination so active that When Will There Be Good News? can barely contain it.

LA Times

Atkinson has turned the corner from writing wonderfully rich literary novels with mysteries at their core to writing mysteries with rich literary style.

Library Journal

Evocative, smart, literary, and funny...a book that will easily stand up to more than one reading; highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Like the most riveting BBC mystery, in which understated, deadpan intelligence illuminates characters' inner lives within a convoluted plot.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A lesser author would buckle under so many story lines, but Atkinson juggles them brilliantly, simultaneously tying up loose ends...and opening new doors for further Brodie misadventures.

The Sunday Times (UK)

It doesn’t really matter in which genre Atkinson chooses to write. Her subject is always the irrecoverable loss of love and how best to continue living once you have glumly recognised that that was what the world was like, things improved but they didn’t get better. Her gift is presenting this unnerving and subversive philosophy as a dazzling form of entertainment.

The Scotsman (UK)

READER, SUSPEND DISBELIEF. Find something high-flown, and attach with care, then send your critical faculties hurtling. Kate Atkinson’s latest (darkest? bloodiest? most free-wheeling?) slice of make-belief has attitude and altitude in abundance. It pushes its luck in taking coincidence and outlandishness to levels of sheer unadulterated chutzpah, and by its stomach-curdling ending, it’s so accelerated that you’re waiting for the wheels to come off. They don’t.

Toronto Star

Clever, wry and highly readable. . . . Almost every coincidence is delicious and not a little comic.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

Brilliant, as always
When Will There Be Good News? is the third book in the Jackson Brodie series by popular British author, Kate Atkinson. Some two years after the events of One Good Turn, Jackson Brodie is intent on discovering the paternity of Julia Land’s son, Nathan...   Read More


I loved every page of this book. Brilliantly written and has a snarky sense of humor.

Margaret McCrank

Loved this book!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish, with my attention being held all the way through. All the characters are interesting, especially sixteen-year-old Reggie, who'd be a good one to have around in a crisis, believe me, despite her ...   Read More


Love Kate Atkinson, but not this book
I absolutely loved the books "Case Histories" and "One Good Turn" by Kate Atkinson and could not wait for the 3rd book in the series. Unfortunately, I just did not find it as interesting. Kate continues an write the best ...   Read More

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About the Author
Kate Atkinson was born in York, England in 1951 and studied English Literature at Dundee University in Scotland. After graduating in 1974, she researched a postgraduate doctorate on American Literature. She later taught at Dundee University and began writing short stories in 1981. She started writing for women's magazines after winning the 1986 Woman's Own Short Story Competition.

Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995), won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year award. Set in Yorkshire, the book has been adapted for radio, theater and TV. This was followed by Human Croquet (1977), Abandonment (2000), Emotionally Weird (2000), Not the End of the World (2002), Case Histories (2004), One ...

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