Friday, November 15, 2019

Big Sky - Kate Atkinson

Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s fifth Jackson Brodie novel, a series she started in 2004 with Case Histories. For a while, it seemed that Atkinson had settled into a routine of producing a new Jackson Brodie novel every two years, with 2006’s One Good Turn, 2008’s When Will There Be Good News?, and 2010’s Started Early, Took My Dog. Then nothing. Nothing, that is, until this year’s addition to the series, so you can imagine how excited Jackson Brodie fans were to get their hands on Big Sky. But nine years is a long gap, and even though I had read three of the first four books in the series, it took me a while to recall enough of Brodie’s personal circumstances for the novel to start feeling more like part of a series again than like a standalone novel. 

This time around, Brodie is living in a quiet (as in depressed) British seaside village where he offers his private detective services to one and all  – although most all of his clients are actually of the type eagerly seeking dirt on their spouses for financial gain. Brodie is a man who barely bothers to take care of himself, but he does seem to enjoy the part-time company of his old dog and his sullen teenage son when one of his ex-wives is too busy to care for them herself. At the moment, Brodie is engaged in gathering proof, including lots of pictures, that one woman’s husband is busily cheating on her. This kind of work is so routine to Brodie that he even leaves his son to keep an eye on the cheating couple for a moment while he buys the boy a promised ice cream treat. His routine, though, is about to get shaken up – and it all starts on the day that Brodie stumbles across a suicidal man standing on the edge of a crumbling cliff.

Brodie is also involved in an internet sting in which he impersonates a young girl vulnerable to sexual predators who use the internet to lure children to their doom. Now, after witnessing a young girl climb into a car that stops along the highway to pick her up, and failing to stop the driver after he loses the man’s car in heavy traffic, Brodie is haunted about what he suspects the girl’s fate may turn out to be. Human trafficking is one of the ugliest crimes on the face of the earth, and almost before he knows it, Jackson Brodie is going to find himself trying to deal with some of the most despicable people imaginable. 

Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson is not an easy writer for me to read, and Big Sky is not an exception to the rule. As usual, Atkinson spends much of the novel introducing seemingly unrelated characters and telling their stories in dozens of pages. And even though one knows that the author will tie all the loose ends together at some point, it may be hard for readers initially not to feel that they are starting three or four different novels at the same time. This also means that the central character of the book and the series, Jackson Brodie, is not “on stage” as long or as often as one might suspect (and hope) he would be. Atkinson does, as usual, bring everything and everyone together for a satisfying ending, and many of the characters and subplots we meet along the way are memorable ones, so Big Sky is another worthy addition to the Jackson Brodie series. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kate Atkinson’s sense of humor, a tool she employs throughout her books. One of my favorite little throwaways from Big Sky begins with a  reference to the girl Brodie watched climb into the suspicious vehicle previously mentioned (she was wearing a backpack adorned with a unicorn):

            “The Girl with the Unicorn Backpack. It sounded like one of those Scandi noir books that he didn’t read. Jackson didn’t like them much – too dark and twisted or too lugubrious. He liked his crime fiction to be cheerfully unrealistic, although in fact he hardly read anything anymore in any genre. Life was too short and Netflix too good.”

I love that.

Bottom Line: Have a little patience, pay close attention to the subplots, and you will really like Big Sky. Grow impatient, let your mind drift too much, and you won’t. 

6 comments:

  1. I read Case Histories years ago, but was put off by Atkinson's style. It wasn't the mystery I was looking for at the time. Later I watched the Jackson Brody television series and loved it. I also liked Atkinson's Transcriptions, so maybe I have developed more of a liking for her style and should give her Brody books another look.

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    1. It's kind of funny, I suppose, that I keep reading her even though I have the same reaction to her storytelling style every single time. Ultimately, that proves that she is worth the extra effort it takes for me to really get into one of her books. I do wish I'd seen that television series but I never came across it.

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  2. I've heard so many good things about Atkinson's books, but after reading your description of her writing style, I think I'd be one of those readers who found it irritating. Thanks for the warning!

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    1. You never know, Susan. She must be doing something stylistically that pleases a whole lot of people because she is very, very popular. I like her characters and plots for the most part, I just struggle with the process of immersing myself in her books. But I keep coming back.

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  3. Jackson sounds like a great character. I love that quote you chose!

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    1. Isn't that a great quote though? I love that kind of self-deprecating humor, and Atkinson is really good at it.

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