Kate Atkinson – Big Sky (5 stars)

Kate Atkinson – Big Sky

Tour de force of a detective novel which sees the return of private eye Jackson Brodie

Fans have been clamouring for the return of Kate Atkinson's private eye Jackson Brodie ever since Started Early, Took My Dog ended with a massive cliffhanger in 2010. Luckily, the fifth appearance of this catastrophising former policeman with a big heart doesn't disappoint, and Brodie is quickly embroiled in all sorts of mysteries he probably won't even be paid for.

As always, the story is not Brodie-centric. While he's often at the eye of the storm (due in no small way to a few good dollops of coincidence), the novel features a familiar face or two as well as a full roster of new characters. At the forefront we have the unfortunate Vince Ives, whose humdrum existence disintegrates in a spectacular way, and Crystal Holroyd, who's made the perfect life for herself against all odds and now must fight to keep her daughter safe. Reggie Chase also makes a welcome appearance, as do Brodie's familial responsibilities and entanglements. The various storylines inevitably intertwine to create a weave that's both tight in terms of plotting and expansive in its exploration of human nature.

Atkinson excels in couching unlikely turns of events in such a way that they become a signpost to the fickleness of fate, rather than a reminder of the authorial hand. The reader sometimes needs a hop, skip and jump of understanding to keep up with the shifting narratives, but it's gentle mental gymnastics like these that make the resolutions all the more satisfying.

Wry asides give us not only welcome moments of levity, but also the kind of interior thoughts and observations that evoke sympathy even where it's least deserved. The competing and complicated facets that make up a person are a central theme in the novel as embodied by the ever-empathetic and occasionally morally compromised Jackson Brodie. Join him in this tour de force of a detective novel; you'll be glad you did.

Out Tue 18 Jun via Doubleday.

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