Back 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.