Paperbacks to Look Out for in August 2019

After a tempting array of new August titles I’m sorry to say that only a handful of paperbacks appeal, two of which I’ve read already. I was far from convinced that I’d like let alone love Robbie Arnott’s Flames which is quite some way out of my usual literary territory but it ended up as one of my 2018 favourites, even making it on to my Booker wish list. Arnott’s debut begins with the reappearance of Edith McAllister, two days dead. The McAllister women have a history of resurrection, appearing covered in barnacles or vegetation after they’ve been cremated, only to burst into flames a few days later. It comes as no surprise, then, when Edith repeats the pattern but her son is determined that his sister will escape the same fate. Wacky as that sounds, Arnott’s striking novel drew me in with its gorgeous writing.

Back to more straightforward fiction with Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side, a perceptive exploration of middle-aged marriage which inhabits quintessential Quindlen territory. Charlie is cock-a-hoop having secured a space in the parking lot of the Manhattan cul-de-sac where he and Nora have lived for a couple of decades along with a privileged set of householders who  look to the likes of Ricky, the handyman, to keep things ticking over smoothly. One day a shocking act of violence rocks the street, setting off fault lines in relationships that will undermine some irretrievably. There’s a pleasing thread of wry humour running through this novel which is also a love letter to New York, laced with a certain ruefulness at its makeover. Quindlen’s fiction seems much over-looked here in the UK which is a shame. I’d rank her alongside Elizabeth Strout.

We’re staying in New York for Dana Czapnik’s The Falconer much praised by both Salman Rushdie and Claire Messud which seems a slightly odd combination. Czapnik’s debut follows seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler, a basketball star in the making. Less brash than she seems, Lucy falls into unrequited love with her best friend and teammate then finds herself drawn into the bohemian world of two women artists. ‘In her hit US debut, Dana Czapnik memorably captures the voice of a young woman in the first flush of freedom searching for an authentic way to live and love’ say the publishers which sounds just the ticket.

Moving on to Thailand with Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, which tells the story of a disparate set of the city’s inhabitants through the history of one building, A nineteenth century missionary longs for New England; a 1970s jazz pianist attempts to subdue the building’s ghosts and a young woman gives swimming lessons in a near-future submerged Bangkok, apparently. I’ve always had a soft spot for this kind of structure but I’m slightly deterred by the dystopian thread.

Eoin McNamee’s The Vogue  sounds a little Gothic rather than dystopian. In 1944, two teenagers silently dance in an aerodrome. She draws the outlines of their footwork in eyebrow pencil; he loses their bet. Decades later, a body is found. ‘Set against an eerie landscape, awash with secrets, The Vogue is a grimly poetic dance through the intertwined stories of a deeply religious community, an abandoned military base, and a long-shuttered children’s Care Home’ say the publishers promisingly. Anna Burns is a big fan, apparently.

I wasn’t overly impressed by David Szalay’s All That Man Is which never seemed to coalesce as a novel but that hasn’t stopped me from casting an eye over Turbulence, described by his publishers as a short story sequence, which follows twelve characters en route across the globe. ‘Szalay deftly depicts the ripple effect that, knowingly or otherwise, a person’s actions have on those around them, and invites us to consider our own place in the vast and delicately balanced network of human relationships that is the world we live in today’ according to the blurb. It’s the idea of the journey that attracts me to this one.

That’s it for August’s paperback preview. A click on the title of one of the first two will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the rest should you want to know more. New titles can be found here and here.

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan: The rights of man

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m undergoing a similar conversion to historical fiction that I did with short stories having read several books over the past year which fit that description, not least Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Truth be told, many of the novels I read are not bang up to date in their setting but I tend to think of historical fiction as taking place well before the twentieth century, often lushly jacketed. Alix Nathan’s The Warlow Experiment fits both those criteria. Beginning in 1793, it tells the story of Herbert Powyss and John Warlow who answers Powyss’ advertisement for a man willing to be sealed underground in solitary confinement for seven years in exchange for fifty pounds for life.

Powyss is a recluse, pursuing an interest in natural science at Moreham Hall in Herefordshire. He has no family, no wife, no children and just one man he calls his friend with whom he corresponds. Frustrated in his ambition to be recognised by the Royal Society, Powyss conceives an eye-catching experiment: a volunteer will live in a luxuriously furnished apartment, complete with library, beneath Moreham Hall with no human contact for seven years. In return, the chosen applicant will receive fifty pounds a year for life and his family will be supported throughout his seven-year confinement. An advertisement is posted laying out these conditions but only one man applies: the semiliterate John Warlow, an agricultural labourer and father of six. In April 1793, Powyss ushers Warlow into his new living quarters, careful to show him the organ of which he is inordinately proud. Warlow is to communicate by note and will be given whatever he wants within reason. In order that he not harm himself, he will have no means of shaving or cutting his nails. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan. Meanwhile, the revolutionary fervour which has gripped France finds a toehold in Britain, its supporters encouraged by the ideas promulgated in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. In Herefordshire, Powyss’ gardener decides it’s time for the working man to rise up, leading to an act which will unleash a trail of destruction and bring Powyss’ experiment to a dramatic end.

In her author’s note, Nathan explains her novel was sparked by a record in the Annual Register, dated 1797, indicating that such an experiment had reached its fourth year. The Warlow Experiment is her response to this extraordinary idea, telling the story from both Warlow and Powyss’ points of view. Deeply introverted, Powyss is incapable of understanding the potential damage of imposing a regime he might find rather attractive on an uneducated man with no inner resources. There are glimmers of grotesque comedy in Nathan’s story, which exposes the chasm between rich and poor, but she’s careful to avoid caricature: Powyss’ idea is monstrous but it’s as much the product of emotional ignorance as overweening ambition. The servants with their politicking and their resentful self-interested complicity are particularly well drawn. There’s much to enjoy in this absorbing story, well told, but it’s chilling to think that it orginated from an historical record. In a neat illustration of the novel’s theme, if you look closely at that jacket, you’ll notice there are insects crawling over its enticing fruit.

My 2019 (Man) Booker Wish List

Another year, another Man Booker Prize longlist in the offing, except this year its reverted to the Booker Prize, thanks to a change of sponsorship with Crankstart stepping into the funding breach as of June 1st this year. To be eligible for the prize all books must be published in the UK between October 1st 2018 and 30th September 2019, and have been written in English. Regular readers will know that any similarity between my wish list and the judges’ longlist is likely to be entirely coincidental. The judges usually allow themselves twelve, although they sometimes stretch to thirteen and this year I have, too. Their list will be revealed on Wednesday, 24th July but here’s mine – wishes not predictions – in no particular order, with links to my reviews for all but The Dutch House, Beyond the Sea and The Hiding Game which I’ve read but have yet to review.

Cover imageCover imageCover image

Little                                                         Flames                                   Land of the Living

Cover imageCover imageCover image

Memories of the Future              In the Full Light of the Sun            A Stranger City

Cover imageCover imageCover image

We, The Survivors                            The Narrow Land                       The Language of Birds

 

Cover imageCover image

Starling Days                                     The Dutch House                    The Hiding Game

Beyond the Sea

It’s quite possible that I’ll read a gem I’d loved to have included here before September 3rd when the shortlist is announced but I’m sticking to the tried and tested. And if I had to choose one? That’s a tough decision this year. It’s a toss-up between A Stranger City, The Dutch House and Land of the Living, although there are several others I’d be loath to relinquish.

What about you? What would you like to see on the list, and what do you think the judges will plump for?

Books to Look Out for in August 2019: Part Two

August’s first instalment progressed smartly through the twentieth century while staying in the United States but this second preview lacks any neatly cohesive thread, I’m afraid. You may have noticed that it’s the centenary year of the Bauhaus school of design, the background for Theresia Enzensberger’s Blueprint which opens at the beginning of the 1920s. Luise dreams of becoming an architect, enrolling herself in the Bauhaus university where she’s taught by Walter Gropius and Wassily Kandinksy. While her art school friends immerse themselves in their work, street fights are breaking out in Berlin. ‘From technology to art, romanticism to the avant-garde, populism to the youth movement, Luise encounters themes, utopias and ideas that still shape us to the present day’ say the publishers. I already have my eye on Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game which shares the Bauhaus theme but I’m tempted by this one, too.

Back to the States for the next two titles beginning with Lot by Bryan Washington, set in Houston where a mixed-race boy, working in the family restaurant and fending off his brother’s blows, is coming to the realisation that he’s gay. ‘Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot explores trust and love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms’ say the publishers promisingly.

Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels is set in San Diego where Big Angel is about to hold what may well be his last rowdy birthday party when his mother dies. Big Angel’s half-brother is in attendance at what is now both a party and a wake, all too well aware of his mixed race. The weekend passes in a celebration of both lives and the telling of a multitude of stories. ‘Teeming with brilliance and humor, authentic at every turn, The House of Broken Angels is Luis Alberto Urrea at his best, and cements his reputation as a storyteller of the first rank’ say the publishers.

It’s its structure that attracts me to Livia Franchini’s debut, Shelf Life, which comes highly rated by Sophie Mackintosh who described it as ‘whip-smart and slyly heartbreaking’. Thirty-year-old Ruth works in a care home and has just been dumped by her fiancé. As she works her way through the week’s shopping list item by item, she tells her story which reveals a life spent looking after everyone else but herself. Sounds a bit thin, doesn’t it, but as a lover of lists I can’t resist the lure of this one.

I’m signing off August with Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, which begins in 1989 when Saul Adler is hit by a car on Abbey Road. Apparently unscathed, he visits his girlfriend who insists on photographing Saul on the famous crossing then dumps him. Saul takes off to Berlin, two months before the Wall comes down. In 2016, he’s hit by a car on Abbey Road, dipping in and out of consciousness as a group of people gather at his hospital bedside, including his ex-girlfriend. ‘Slipping slyly between time zones and leaving a spiralling trail, Deborah Levy’s electrifying new novel examines what we see and what we fail to see, until we encounter the spectres of history – both the world’s and our own’ Very much like the sound of that.

That’s it for the second batch of August’s new titles. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have caught your eye, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman: A young life lost

Cover imageI enjoyed Fiona Kidman’s All Day at the Movies so much that I included it on last year’s Women’s Prize wish list. Of course, I knew there was little or no hope that the judges would agree. Spanning 1952 to 2015, it told the story of a family, offering a glimpse of New Zealand’s social history through the lens of their experience. This Mortal Boy also begins in the ’50s, exploring the far-reaching effects of capital punishment through the case of Albert Black, a young Irish man who had emigrated in search of work and adventure but found himself in desperate trouble.

In 1953, eighteen-year-old Albert takes up the New Zealand government’s offer of a cheap passage. He’s a Belfast boy from a Protestant family, his mother’s favourite and popular with their neighbours. After a lonely start, Albert makes friends with Peter, another young man determined to make a life for himself. These two stick together, finding work and lodgings in Wellington but while Peter has no family to miss, Albert is miserably homesick, deciding to take himself off to Auckland, where wages are better, to save for his fare home. He settles in, looking after a boarding house while the landlady’s away and missing Peter’s companionship while losing himself in drink and sex. When he meets Johnny McBride, Albert is resistant to McBride’s determination to move in with him, but McBride will have none of it. Shortly after, their uneasy friendship turns to enmity, resulting in a fight and a fatal stabbing which lands Albert in the dock. New Zealand is in the grips of a moral panic. According to the Mazengarb Report, commissioned by New Zealand’s right-wing government, the country is overrun by young male migrants corrupting the country’s youth. It’s against this background that Albert’s trial takes place.

Kidman’s novel takes the case of Albert Black and uses it to explore the effects of capital punishment on all associated with it, from the prison staff who solace themselves with drink to the jury members who must live with the consequences of their verdict, convinced of it or not. Above all it’s the story of a young man, caught up in a life that he hadn’t expected, miserable with homesickness but with the possibility of love and a life ahead of him. Kidman is careful to flesh out her characters giving them backstories which bring them convincingly to life. Auckland is a place of transients and aliases, a ‘shifting febrile world’ where young men with good hearts sometimes behave badly. Her novel is both a tense courtroom drama and a political analysis which examines the role of prejudice and expedience in Albert’s case, posing questions about the possibility of misjustice. Kidman writes with compassion and empathy, steering this intensely moving novel well clear of sentimentality. I began my review of All Day at the Movies with the hope that Kidman would become better known in the UK; I’m ending this one with the same sentiment.

Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: You might as well live

Cover imageRowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut, Harmless Like You, was one of my books of 2016. I loved it for its poignancy leavened with wry humour, and for the striking images shining brightly from its pages. That same deft writing is evident in Starling Days which follows Mina and Oscar from New York to London where Oscar is hoping Mina will find some distraction from what ails her.

Mina is picked up by a patrol car, gazing over the edge of the George Washington Bridge in New York. Her husband comes to collect her, his mind full of memories of her overdose on their wedding night. Mina and Oscar have been together for over ten years but married for just six months. He has never known her well. Her childhood was filled with the sadness of loss, not least of the grandmother who brought her up. Now nearly thirty, her academic career is chequered and her idea for a monograph on women survivors stalled. Oscar’s father offers an opportunity to get Mina away, asking him to oversee the renovation of a set of apartments in London. Oscar works for his father importing sake and exotic beers to the States but their relationship is scratchy. Oscar was brought up by his mother in Britain, the product of a one-night stand. Oscar and Mina try to settle in: Oscar consumed with worry about Mina, she at a loss to know how to occupy herself. Called back to the States on the pretext of business, Oscar is presented with a series of revelations that turns his relationship with his father on its head. Back in London, alone and desperate, Mina turns to the sister of Oscar’s oldest friend for solace. Each, it seems, has decided their future lies elsewhere.

Buchanan’s compassionate, empathetic novel explores the effects of mental illness from both sides of a relationship, switching perspectives between Mina and Oscar. It lays bare both the sheer exhaustion of living with the constant worry of what a beloved partner might do to themselves and the relentless debilitation of a disordered mind. Similar themes run through Buchanan’s debut but her new novel is infused with a deeper melancholy and there are moments of aching sadness:

And she saw herself as if from a great height – this small tattooed woman with the bleached hair crying for her husband’s affection. This small woman dressed to look like a rebel just begging to be held.

Unlike Harmless Like You, there are no slapstick moments such as the hairless therapy cat in its ‘festive jumper’ – although I did think the lovely Benson would make an excellent therapy dog – but the same wry, dark humour brightens the tone:

 There was no word for the woman whose husband your mother had borrowed

Given the nature of its story, this was bound to be a more sombre novel than Buchanan’s first, made all the more so by the heartfelt note at its end in which she addresses readers dealing with their own difficulties:

Every day you try again is an act of bravery. Although this is worthy of pride, you may not feel able to be proud of yourself. But I would like to wish you congratulations on being here today

Amen to that.

Books to Look Out for in August 2019: Part One

After the paucity of potential treats on offer in July, I’m glad to say we’re back to two posts for August’s new title preview the first of which stays put in the United States throughout, beginning with Téa Obreht’s Inland, an exploration of  the history and myths of the American West through frontierswoman Nora and Lurie, a former outlaw. ‘Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Tea Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely – and unforgettably – her own’ say the publishers. It’s been eight years since Obreht won the then Orange Prize for Fiction with The Tiger’s Wife which I loved so hopes and anticipation are high for this one.

Moving on a century or so, Patrick Flanery’s Night for Day is set in Los Angeles in 1950, taking place over just one day in the midst of the Communist witch hunt. Director John Marsh and screenwriter Desmond Frank are trying to complete a noir update of the Orpheus myth, each of them struggling with personal and political difficulties. ‘With as much to say about the early years of the Cold War as about the political and social divisions that continue to divide the country today, Night for Day is expansive in scope and yet tenderly intimate, exploring the subtleties of belonging and the enormity of exile-not only from one’s country but also from one’s self’ say the publishers. It’s the setting of this one that interests me although it weighs in at well over 600 pages which is a little off-putting.

We’re staying in the American ‘50s for a while with David Bowman’s Big Bang which explores the decade leading up to the Kennedy assassination on the premise that the event defined the late twentieth century. Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Howard Hunt and a young Jimi Hendrix all make appearances, apparently.’ Written with an almost documentary film like intensity, BIG BANG is a posthumous work from the award-winning author of Let the Dog Drive. A riotous account of a country, perhaps, at the beginning of the end’ according to the publishers. I’m not entirely sure about this, not least because it’s another 600+ chunkstser.

Another decade, another book, another doorstopper and then some at just over 1,000 pages. Lewis Shiner’s Outside the Gates of Eden begins in the ‘60s and takes us all the way to the twenty-first century as it traces the rise and fall of counterculture through Alex and Cole who meet in high school. Alex would prefer to be an artist rather than join the family business while Cole’s future is decided at a Bob Dylan conference in 1965. ‘Using the music business as a window into the history of half a century, Outside the Gates of Eden is both epic and intimate, starkly realistic and ultimately hopeful, a War and Peace for the Woodstock generation’ say the publishers somewhat ambitiously. I’m very attracted to this one but somewhat intimidated by its length.

I’m finishing this first batch with Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes set in an upstate New York town where everything looks neatly and tidy. The Gleesons and the Stanhopes are neighbours, both new to Gilliam, but while the adults remain frostily separate their children form a friendship which will be threatened by a tragedy whose origins will remain hidden for many years. ‘A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love’ say the publishers which sounds a little run of the mill but it’s much loved by Meg Wolitzer which has swung it for me.

Here endeth part one of August’s rather weighty new novels. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Second instalment soon…

Six Degrees of Separation – from Where the Wild Things Are to The Tiger in the Tiger Pit #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

We’re starting this month with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a much-loved children’s picture book in which Max is sent to bed with no supper but finds an adventure awaits him.

Which takes me to Julia Donaldson’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, a picture book all about books that my bookselling friend’s daughter loved so much it fell to bits.

It’s a small leap from there to Charlie Hill’s Books which lampoons everyone in the book trade, from publishers to booksellers, literary editors to authors, bloggers (how dare he!) to publicists and adds a swipe at performance artists for good measure.

I’ve always loved the title of the tenth volume of Anthony Powell’s ‘Dance to the Music of Time’ series, Books Do Furnish a Room, although I didn’t get much beyond the second instalment, I’m afraid

No books as I recall in Emma Donoghue’s bestselling Room in which a young woman and her five-year-old son manage to keep sane despite their incarceration in a tiny space.

Donoghue also wrote Frog Music leading me to Lorrie Moore’s collection Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? which I read long before I learned to enjoy short stories and so failed to appreciate it as much as I should have.

I read Janette Turner Hospital’s The Tiger in the Tiger Pit so long ago I can barely remember it but a quick google reminds me that it’s about a fraught family celebration.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a children’s picture book classic to the familiar fictional territory of family reunions, secrets and lies. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Thirteen Days in Poland, Half a Day in Slovakia, Two Books and the Ghost of Another 

H and I enjoyed our time in Poland last year so much that we decided to go back, this time combining a bit of gentle urban exploration with a few walks in the mountains. We started off in Gdansk whose beautiful old town reminded me of the Baltic States. All meticulously rebuilt, of course: like so many cities in Central Europe, Gdansk was flattened during the Second World War.

Given this summer’s dismal start in the UK, we were hoping for sunshine and we were in luck, spending much of the first few days lolling about on our riverside apartment’s balcony, wandering around the market buying things for supper with the odd outing including one to Oliwa Park, a particularly lovely stretch of green space. Sadly, the botanical gardens seem to have turned into a building site but there were gorgeous wild flowers flourishing in little patches of scrub all over the city, the kind of display that British gardeners spend years patiently coaxing into existence.

Towards the end of the week we took ourselves off to the small seaside town of Sopot, a short train ride away. It was sweltering by the time we arrived. Trudging to the end of the pier and back was distinctly unappealing so we turned off down a leafy path instead, ending up in the next small town by way of a delightful, ever so slightly rundown café for lunch.

We didn’t get up to much in the way of culture in Gdansk although we did visit the Polish Post Office, defended by its staff against the invading German Army who attacked it on September 1st 1939 in one of the first acts of the Second World War. It still operates as a post office – we bought some stamps there – and there’s a tiny museum attached which tells the story with no fuss or frills.

On Saturday morning we caught the super-fast, comfy train to Kraków for a night, spotting storks along the way. Despite its reputation as one of Poland’s finest sights, we preferred both Wroclaw and Poznan’s squares to the Rynek much of which we’d last seen under wraps for restoration. Sunday morning was spent ambling around Planty, the elegant tree-lined circular park which encircles the city, after dawdling over a particularly delicious breakfast at a pretty café before setting off for Zakopane in the foothills of the Tatras where we planned to spend a week walking although the heatwave put the kybosh on much of that.

Zakopane turned out to be delightful away from the main drag which is stuffed full of stalls aiming to flog tat to tourists. The town became popular as a resort in the nineteenth century and is full of quaint timber houses sporting a plethora of steeply gabled attic windows in the Zakopane Style developed by Stanislau Witkiewicz. The Jaszczurówka Chapel, gorgeously carved both Zakopane Style cottageoutside and in, is a particularly lovely example but it was the cottage hidden away in the woods across the road from our hotel that charmed me.

Far too hot for hiking crowded trails on our last day by which time we’d walked almost every square inch of Zakopane so we slipped over the border into Slovakia, driving to Levoča, a small UNESCO-listed town, beautifully restored. We’d spent a couple of uninspiring days in Bratislava three years ago but Levoča and the lovely countryside surrounding it made us both wonder if Slovakia might be worth another look some time. One last breakfast buffet and it was time to come home, bringing the dirty washing mountain with us.

And the books? I’d been planning to readCover image something by John Boyne for some time and A Ladder to the Sky looked as if it would fit the holiday reading bill nicely. Boyne’s literary anti-hero, Maurice Swift is an opportunist, a beautiful young man, obsessed with writing but lacking in the storytelling department, who will do anything to succeed. Stuffed full of literary allusions, Boyne’s novel is a witty, intelligent read which pokes satisfying fun at the book world.

Cover imageFriendship is the theme of Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators which reminded me a little of Rachel B. Glaser’s Paulina and Fran with its story of Sharon and Mel who meet at art college and go on to make a name for themselves as edgy cartoonists. Childhood secrets, thwarted love and the ravages of fame run through Whitaker’s debut which, although a little patchy at times, earned its place in my holiday luggage.

I had been expecting to include Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One here but when I opened it I found my copy had been misbound. Inside was a different book from the one promised by its cover, and not one that particularly appealed, leaving me in a fit of fretfulness about whether I had enough to read for the rest of the holiday.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson: Jackson, how we’ve missed you.

Cover imageBack from my hols (more of which later in the week) with one I prepared earlier. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, no matter how short, you’ll probably have gathered that Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers, not nearly as recognised by awards judges as she should be. Last September we were treated to Transcription and after polishing that off I settled down to wait for the next one unaware that it would be less than a year or that it would be an instalment of the Jackson Brodie series. After a hiatus of nine years, Jackson’s back and installed in a cottage in his native Yorkshire looking after his teenage son while Julia, Nathan’s mother, finishes off the latest in the TV police procedural series in which she stars. It’s not long before Jackson becomes embroiled in a case that encompasses historical sex abuse, modern day slavery and people trafficking.

Jackson is spending his summer ferrying thirteen-year-old Nathan around, impersonating a young girl online in the hope of snaring a paedophile and providing a cuckolded wife with a seemingly endless stream of evidence of her husband’s infidelity while looking after Julia’s portly, ageing Labrador of whom he’s become increasingly fond. Meanwhile, a trio of golfing buddies make fun of the fourth member of their group. Vince has never felt part of their gang, merely tolerated by Steve whose life he saved when they were schoolkids. In the midst of a divorce, Vince is on his uppers, wondering about stepping over a crumbling cliff when Jackson appears and saves him, the second death he’s prevented that summer. Through a web of coincidence and circumstance, these two will find themselves uncovering a heinous crime whose roots stretch back to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Before Jackson’s latest case draws to its satisfying conclusion, justice will have been done but its legality is quite another thing.

Atkinson neatly fills in Jackson’s backstory for readers who haven’t read the four previous Brodie novels (and have that delight to come). Handy for those of us whose memories, like Jackson’s, have become a little woolly in the nine years since Started Early, Took My Dog.

Wasn’t that called something – a logical fallacy? (Was he just making that up?) His little grey cells put their thinking caps on, but – unsurprisingly – came up with nothing

Many of the familiar Brodie tropes are here: Jackson’s still blaming himself for his failure to save his murdered sister, determined to protect as many vulnerable women and girls as he can; he’s still deeply suspicious of the middle classes; and there are dogs, many of them, the sweetest of which is Julia’s Dido.

He was becoming a walking, talking history lesson, a one-man folk museum except that nobody was interested in learning anything from him  

Atkinson has a knack of getting her readers to inhabit the minds of her characters, not least Jackson, his thoughts commented on by Julia, who has taken up residence in his head. Men don’t come off very well in Jackson’s world, their treatment of women and girls frequently exploitative and brutal, but there’s hope in the form of Vince, who finds an unexpected way to redeem himself, sixteen-year-old Harry, determined to protect his little sister and respect his stepmother, and, of course, Jackson, always on the lookout for injustice. As with the previous four Brodie novels, Big Sky is an intelligent, thoroughly satisfying piece of crime fiction that tackles social issues with a sharp wit and dry humour. Fingers crossed that the BBC have Jason Isaacs lined up for an adaptation.