Case Histories: One Good Turn

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie facing off against a man with a baseball bat.
Trouble comes calling.
Troubling events never seem to happen one at a time. They come in bunches, seemingly unrelated yet perplexingly intertwined if you examine them closely.

For Jackson Brodie, that’s certainly true. He doesn’t just spot a dead girl floating in the Firth of Forth, he also witnesses a vicious road rage incident. (This is Scotland, by the way. Where’d that guy get the baseball bat? Ah, never mind.) And he comes to the aid of a betrayed wife.

And they’re all connected.

And he has girlfriend trouble.

And his ex-wife wants to move to New Zealand and take his daughter with her.

And that’s all before breakfast, so to speak.

This week’s episode of Case Histories on Masterpiece Mystery is based on Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, the second of her Jackson Brodie novels. The pacing is a bit breathless, especially when compared with the smoldering dysfunction and melancholy of the first episode. But that, too, is the way things happen sometimes.

We begin with the girl floating face-down in the cold, murky water. Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs) dives in after her, despite knowing that she can’t possibly be saved. It’s a habit. He can’t seem to escape young girls in peril.

But this time peril doesn’t discriminate: Martin Canning (Adam Godley), a mousy, middle-aged writer of soft-boiled crime novels, fears for his life—with good reason as it turns out—and begs Jackson to protect him. Once he agrees, Brodie’s in peril as well.

Case Histories: Marion Bailey and Orla O’Rourke
Marion Bailey and Orla O’Rourke
As Gloria Hatter, the wife of a shifty residential real estate developer, Marion Bailey isn’t in peril—well, not too much peril, anyway—but she shines as a recovering doormat who’s spitting angry and has the means to do something about it. The scenes between Gloria and the Russian dominatrix Tatiana (Sorry, did I not mention the Russian dominatrix earlier?) are gems lifted straight from the novel.

On the other hand, a lot has been changed from Atkinson’s original books:

Brodie’s assistant, Deborah Arnold, has a larger role and that’s a good thing. As Deborah, Zawe Ashton is appealing and sharp, adding just enough snappy secretary banter without venturing too far into cliché.

The role of Julia Land—client in Episode 1, girlfriend in Episode 2—has been pared down considerably, which doesn’t bother me a bit. No offense to Natasha Little, who’s just fine in the role, but Julia’s annoying (even more so in the books).

I didn’t reread One Good Turn before this week’s episode, largely because I wanted to see if the show stood up on its own. It does—even if it requires some suspension of disbelief. But I do wish some things from the books had not been altered or had been clarified. Two in particular:

First is the backstory involving Brodie’s sister, Niamh—the girl we’ve seen being pulled from a river in numerous flashbacks over the past two episodes. Clearly her death haunts Brodie, but rerunning the same flashback over and over doesn’t bring the viewer any closer to understanding who she was and what happened to her. Brodie knows, and by now so should viewers. (I’m not going to tell in case it comes up in next week’s episode.)

Jackson Brodie’s ex-wife Josie (Kirsty Mitchell) in Case Histories
Jackson Brodie’s ex-wife: Why’s she so angry?
Second is the backstory involving Brodie’s ex-wife, Josie (Kirsty Mitchell). After two episodes, all we know is that she really doesn’t like Brodie. We haven’t slightest idea why, and from what we’ve seen of him can we even hazard a guess? In Case Histories the novel we learn right away that she’s left him for another man. There’s been no mention of that in the TV series and I think there should have been. It would make her animosity toward him a little more understandable. (But only a little because, well, he is our hero.)

We also don’t know what led to Brodie’s departure from the police force, and even though I’ve read the books (years ago now) I can’t recall the reason he left. Is it important? Could be. Will it be revealed? Possibly. Do you need to read the books to appreciate the series? Probably not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Next week’s episode of Case Histories is based on the novel When Will There Be Good News? Start reading now or let the show take care of itself. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

Watch the episode “One Good Turn” on the PBS website and find more about Case Histories and Masterpiece Mystery at our feature page.

Images via Steffan Hill, Masterpiece Mystery

Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.


  1. Jazzlet

    The British find baseball bats just as useful for beating people with as the Americans. They are easy to buy over here.

  2. Melita Kennedy

    If Josie left for another man, I would think that Brodie would be more ticked off. I assumed that their separation and divorce were for the usual reasons when a cop is involved: long hours, anger/depression issues, etc. And why wouldn’t she be upset when she finds out that he’s taken their daughter on jobs with him and exposed her to violence?

  3. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Jazzlet Good to know (I think). Thanks! @melita In the books, he’s more heartbroken than ticked off. I agree that Josie would be upset to learn that Jackson takes Marlee with him on jobs, although presumably he didn’t do that when he was a cop. Generally though, I just wish Josie’s character were fleshed out a bit more in the series.

  4. Jordan Foster

    Even in the television adaptations, where characters are in varying degrees of “fleshiness” compared to their book versions, I didn’t mind that Josie stayed primarily in the periphery. There are so many women in Jackson’s life, both alive and dead, and he doesn’t quite know how to deal with any of them. It makes sense to me that his ex-wife falls into that category. But since he’s Jackson and so is charming, loyal and a bit like a terrier with a bone when it comes to pursuing something that interests (or upsets) him, it also makes sense that at one point Josie fell in love. And over time, out of love.

  5. Terrie Farley Moran

    Having finally watched the episode last night, I agree that the flashbacks regarding Brodie’s sister’s death are getting tedious. I fast foward them now. (DVR) It is evident that Josie doesn’t like Jackson very much and I don’t care why. However, taking their daughter half way around the world is really an extreme form of payback. I can’t see why he signed the papers. It clearly is in the best interest of the ex-wife but not in the best interest of Brodie or the child. Ah, well, as someone who has never read the books, I can only wait and see.

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