Kate Atkinson's fifth novel, One Good Turn (review, p. 131), marks the return of detective Jackson Brodie, this time to investigate a murder in the author's hometown.

You live in Edinburgh, not so far from novelists J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith. Is there something in the water up there?

I live in the Grange. It's a much nicer neighborhood than Merchiston, where all of them live. [Laughs] I do run into Ian Rankin sometimes.

Detective fiction isn't known for its depth of characterization, but that's one of your major strengths. What led you to the genre?

I never set out to write a crime novel. I put a detective in a book, and suddenly it was called "detective fiction." To me, a detective is just a good device for gathering characters that don't seem to have anything to do with one another. I do like to have a lot of characters in my books.

The plot rests partly on a character who's besieged with annoying questions whenever people find out he's a crime writer. Does he reflect your experience?

Most of the things that happen to Martin have happened to me. People are always saying, "But you're so short!" when they meet me—as though there's a special height that writers are supposed to be. And they're always asking, "Where do you get your ideas?" I've yet to meet a writer who's come up with a good answer for that one. The best answer I've found is "ideas.com."

But the soul of the novel is the gangster's wife, Gloria.

I relate to her. I've become that kind of neo-fascist. She's sorry that stoicism isn't a virtue any more. She's the voice of Reason. And she's very cross. Also, the older she gets, the more baffled she is by her former selves. She's a pot that's taken a long time to come to a boil.

Will we be seeing Jackson Brodie again?

I hope that one day he will reinvestigate his sister's death. He might also go to the Arctic and Antarctic. And I have the first 20 pages of a straightforward American noir that I would like to write. The book I'm writing at the moment is called Good Luck and builds on a germ of a character that was originally in One Good Turn, but there's no Jackson Brodie in it. I have to have books piling up ahead of me in order to feel safe.