Review: Big Sky

Big Sky is the long awaited next installment in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series (the first since 2010), and it doesn’t disappoint. As with the rest of the mystery novels in this series you could read it as a standalone, but it’s even better if you read it as a sequel. In Big Sky, readers are re-acquainted with numerous familiar faces including Julia, Nathan, Marlee, Josie, Tatiana, Reggie Chase, and of course, Jackson Brodie; but we are also introduced to a slew of new characters. This new cast is comprised of a circle of wealthy men and their families, a soft-hearted drag queen, a bawdy comedian, and a crew of historic criminals. Though the sheer number of characters could suffocate this novel, Atkinson handles each with enough attention to detail to make them all feel fully-realized and essential.

The main plot revolves around a group of wealthy men who golf together at the Belvedere Golf Club and are not perhaps as upright and squeaky clean as their shining exteriors suggest. Tommy Holroyd is a shipping magnate recently married to a purported glamour model (topless only) after his first wife conveniently fell off a cliff and died. Andy Bragg owns a struggling seaside B&B with his wife and keeps telling her the designer watches and handbags he buys her are fake because he can’t explain where he got the money for a Patek Phillipe. Vince Ives is a middle-aged soon to be divorcé living behind a fish and chips shop and lamenting his third wheel status of “golf-friend” to Tommy and Andy’s “friend-friends.” Steve Mellors is a successful corporate lawyer with a beautiful wife, a rugby-playing son, a horse-obsessed daughter, and nothing at all to hide…maybe.

As the novel progresses, Atkinson slowly peels back the shiny country club veneer to reveal the unsavory source of all that cash in a satisfying takedown of the uber rich boy’s club. This takedown uncovers a decades-old pedophile ring, dismantles a complicated human-trafficking scheme, and reveals rampant sexual abuse in a story that seems all-too-familiar in our modern world. This isn’t entirely new territory for crime novels, but it feels appropriately relevant to the times we live in.

Despite the fact that this is a Jackson Brodie mystery, Brodie is not the one to solve the crime. In fact, he only becomes involved about halfway through the novel when Tommy’s wife Crystal hires him to figure out who’s been following her. Chapter’s from Brodie’s perspective are sprinkled between chapters from characters more involved in the main plot, and even when he does get in on the action, many of his chapters focus more on his struggles as a parent and his fading relevancy in the modern world. This sounds a bit depressing, but if anything it only increases the charms of the ex-army retired cop with a broken past. In this novel, we see Brodie figuring out where he belongs in the rapidly changing world and accepting his new place. Despite his secondary role in the story, he still comes off as a hero in his customarily unassuming way.

Kate Atkinson builds this story with a practised hand and proves once again that she is one of the best crime fiction writers at work today. One can’t help but think she’d make a fantastic detective herself based on the way she weaves together numerous storylines to create a compelling plot without ever losing track of the smallest detail. Her attention to detail along with her signature dry humor are the elements that make her stories so delightfully readable, and we can only hope that it won’t be another ten years before we get to join Jackson Brodie on his next adventure.

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