Big Sky by Kate Atkinson: A review

Kate Atkinson published the last of her Jackson Brodie novels, Started Early, Took My Dog, in 2010, but somehow I did not discover them until 2013. When I did, I read and reviewed all four, starting with the first, Case Histories, over a two month period. I thought they were all brilliant and I was eager for the next one in the series to be published. But it didn't happen. Instead, Atkinson produced two other brilliant but unrelated literary novels, Life After Life and A God in Ruins. I had to accept the fact that she was never going to produce another Jackson Brodie mystery. 

Then a couple of months ago, wonder of wonders, I read that a new Brodie book was in the works and would be published in June. I immediately preordered it and as soon as it arrived in my Kindle queue last Tuesday I started reading. It was definitely worth waiting for.

Kate Atkinson's books really defy categorization. There's certainly a mystery/thriller element to them and, of course, Jackson Brodie is a former policeman and now private detective, but this book, just like all her previous books, reads like literary fiction. The plot is intricate, complicated, and, in the end, fits together as tightly as any jigsaw puzzle. But getting to that end takes us on a very convoluted route with constant, sometimes dizzying, changes of scene and so many different characters that it was occasionally confusing at first until I got a handle on them. Nevertheless, Atkinson, the consummate writer, leaves sufficient bread crumbs for us along the way that we can be assured that we are finally going to see how all these different stories link up.

These days, Jackson Brodie's investigations consist mostly of infidelity cases and that's what he's doing when we meet up again. It's very boring. In between, he's also sharing the care of his teenage son, Nathan, and his ex-partner Julia's (the actress) elderly dog, Dido. 

While on the case, he observes a young girl with a backpack who is hitchhiking. He sees her get into a car and his instinct to preserve and protect kicks in. He tries to follow the car but loses it in traffic. A few days later on the beach, he finds a backpack like the one he saw and takes it to the police to try to interest them in an investigation. They see no reason to get involved. Jackson is sure that something bad has happened to the girl and works at trying to find out who the car belonged to so he can trace the owner.

It turns out that this sleepy little Yorkshire town has a lot of very bad stuff going on, much of it centered on the country club set that plays golf at the Belvedere Golf Club. There's a group of men with a whole industry involving scamming foreign women, especially from Eastern Europe, to come to England for jobs, but when they arrive they are drugged, chained, and become sex slaves. Human trafficking, it seems, is big business here.

At the same time, Reggie Chase, a woman who once saved Brodie's life when he was in a train wreck, is now a policewoman here and she and her partner, Ronnie, are reviewing an old case history and talking to witnesses once again. Some of the witnesses they interview overlap the as yet unexposed human trafficking enterprise. Both petite women, Reggie and Ronnie are wonderful and very tough characters who have earned the nickname "the Kray twins" among their peers. (The Krays, of course, were two of Britain's most notorious killers.)

All of these threads, including others too numerous to detail, eventually get tied together and we learn that they really did connect all along. We also learn the meaning of that enigmatic first chapter of the book, the one called "Eloping." That alone is just about worth the price of the book.

In a tale that features the most odious pedophiles and sexual predators and seems almost ripped from today's headlines, it's all about details with Atkinson and no detail is too small to warrant her attention. She lovingly weaves all the tiny bits of her intricate plot to create a tapestry representing flawed human beings, some of whom are actually trying to do their best to live ethical lives and to be on the side of justice. Even if the letter of the law sometimes isn't. It's a tour de force of writing.

Now I wonder when the next Jackson Brodie book is coming out.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars    


  1. I have only read Case Histories so I have a lot of catching up to do! I loved that first one but I guess I got distracted. Also, apologies on being so late to read your posts. I hosted a family party for the 4th and spent days cleaning, shopping and cooking. It was the best time I have had in a while so it was completely worth taking a few days off from my usual pursuits.

    1. A family party is certainly the best kind of distraction. I'm glad you had a fun 4th.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review