Book Review: Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
By Doreen SheridanJune 29, 2019
Iconoclastic detective Jackson Brodie returns in Kate Atkinson’s long-awaited fifth book in the series, Big Sky, a triumphant new novel about secrets, sex, and lies.
It’s been nine long years, but welcome back, Jackson Brodie! And, even more importantly to me, welcome back, Reggie Chase, who is all grown up and now a detective constable after completing her degree in Law and Criminology.
Reggie and her partner, DC Ronnie Debicki, have been tasked with tying up loose ends from an old case involving a ring of pedophiles in Yorkshire. It should be just a matter of crossing t’s and dotting i’s in the course of routine conversations, but the duo keeps running into figurative stone walls as the subjects of their inquiries tend to never be available. When their investigations cross paths with a very recent murder, it looks like they might finally escape this circle of bureaucratic hell. But Reggie soon finds herself in the sort of quandary that no police officer wants to be in, even those with pasts and associations as checkered as her own:
Dr. Hunter had been the nicest, kindest, most sympathetic person that Reggie had ever known, and Reggie knew for a fact that Dr. Hunter had murdered two men with her bare hands (literally) and only Reggie and one other person knew about it. So it just went to show. “Justice has nothing to do with the law,” Dr. Hunter had told her once, and Reggie understood what she meant, as would that one other person who knew about Dr. Hunter’s short career as an assassin.
This being a Kate Atkinson novel, there are no prizes for guessing that that other person is our own former police detective turned private investigator Jackson. Nowadays, our hero is also living in Yorkshire with a teenage son and an elderly dog that he sees at the discretion of his actress ex, Julia. His older daughter, Marlee, is busy in London not speaking to him after words over her choice of fiancé.
When not making a hash of parenting, Jackson is mostly investigating cases of infidelity, the tedious but bill-paying bread and butter of the PI life. However, his instincts—honed not only from private practice and being a cop but also from his time in the military—alert him that greater trouble lurks beneath the placid surface of the quiet seaside village he calls home. At first, it’s just a girl who he thinks might have gone missing, but then, he meets a man on a cliffside while he’s out on a run one day:
Ignoring [Jackson’s] advice, the man took a step nearer the edge and the shale underfoot fell away in a little shower. Yeah, Jackson thought, this one had a death-wish. “You should maybe move back from the edge a bit,” he coaxed. You had to approach would-be jumpers like you would a nervous dog. Don’t alarm them, let them get the measure of you before you reach out. Most importantly of all, don’t let them take you down with them.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jackson asked.
“Not really,” the man said. He took another step nearer to flight. And then another. Jackson disobeyed his own rules and made a lunge for the man, grabbing him in a kind of clumsy bear hug so that the standing man and the running man became one as they went over the edge together. The falling man.
Before Jackson knows it, he’s embroiled in the suicidal man’s personal crisis and on a collision course with Reggie’s investigations into crimes both old and new.
As always, Ms. Atkinson skillfully weaves together these multiple narratives, among others, in a complex tapestry of a murder mystery that will test what each character thinks they believe about themselves and everything they hold true. Fans will enjoy the callbacks to prior books in the series, but Big Sky can be read as a standalone novel—even though, personally, I think everyone should at least read When Will There Be Good News?, the novel that first introduced Reggie to the world. It’s a treat to see how Reggie has grown up and how Jackson is dealing with aging as well as with parenting two children separated by a decade in age.
All the moral dilemmas are treated with sensitivity and aplomb, and the plotlines wrap up with a naturalness that hearkens back to the best of Ms. Atkinson’s oeuvre. The nine years were well worth the wait; hopefully, it won’t be another nine until we see more of Jackson and my beloved Reggie in print again.