Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Atkinson has always written two kinds of books — mysteries and more literary fare — but this one kind of straddles the types. It’s really plot-driven rather than character-based, and there is some mystery to it, but it’s not the neat package of a detective story with a clear hero, and it has a decidedly feminist bent.

We have Nelly Coker, the matriarch of an empire of London nightclubs in the 1920s (no husband needed) and her six grown kids, the crooked cops trying to ruin her, Gwendolyn Kelling, former war nurse turned librarian who’s come to London from York to look for her friend’s little sister — Freida Mergetroid and her friend Florence, who have run away from home to make their fortune on the London stage — and the upright DCI Frobisher, who’s sent to clean up the mess and corruption — and it’s all very entertaining, and at times poignant and dark, but it’s not interested in the depths of human nature. Which is fine — it doesn’t set out to be — but I ultimately prefer books that dig a little deeper.

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