Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Having finally caught up with the fourth book in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series last year (Started Early, Took My Dog), I have now been able to move on to the new one, Big Sky. For those people who have been reading each book in the series as it was published, there has been a nine year wait between books four and five!

In Big Sky, private investigator Jackson is on the trail of a client’s cheating husband, while also trying, without much success, to keep his teenage son, Nathan, entertained. Nathan’s mother – Jackson’s ex-partner Julia – is busy filming the latest episodes of the TV police drama in which she has a starring role, so thirteen-year-old Nathan has been entrusted to Jackson for the summer, along with Julia’s ageing Labrador, Dido.

Meanwhile, we meet Vince, a man for whom everything seems to be going wrong all at once. First he lost his job, then he split up with his wife and had to move out of the family home, and to make matters worse, he feels that he no longer fits in with his group of friends – they are ‘golfing friends, not friend friends’. Depressed and desperate, Vince finds himself standing on the edge of a cliff and it is here that his path crosses with Jackson’s as both men are drawn into a case involving a ring of crime with its roots going back decades.

Beginning with Jackson and his son watching a recreation of a naval battle on the lake in Scarborough’s Peasholm Park and then moving on to Whitby and Bridlington, the story takes place in and around the seaside towns of the North Yorkshire coast, an area I know well from my own childhood summer holidays. The characters in this novel are not having an idyllic summer by any stretch of the imagination, however, as this is a particularly dark Brodie novel with themes including online paedophilia, human trafficking and sexual abuse. Sadly, it’s all very current and topical.

Like the other books in this series, the plot at first seems to consist of several random, unconnected threads. It takes a while for them to start coming together, but of course they do, linked in traditional Kate Atkinson fashion by a series of coincidences and unusual circumstances. Characters who, at the beginning of the book, appear to have no relation to each other, turn out to be connected in the most unexpected ways. Jackson is at the heart of the story and I always enjoy spending time inside his thoughts (I love his dry, cynical sense of humour), but we also see things from the perspectives of many other characters, all of whom are equally important to the plot.

I particularly liked Crystal, the wife of one of Vince’s golfing friends, who at first appears shallow and artificial, but gradually proves to be a brave and compassionate woman trying to overcome her difficult past and protect her little girl Candy and sixteen-year-old stepson Harry (who is another great character – ‘young for his age but also old for his age’). I also became quite fond of Bunny, the kind-hearted elderly drag queen at the theatre where Harry works, and it was good to be reacquainted with Reggie Chase, the teenage girl from When Will There Be Good News? who is now a police officer tasked with investigating historic allegations of sex abuse.

The Jackson Brodie novels are not my favourites of Kate Atkinson’s books, but I have enjoyed them all, including this one. I still have a few of her standalone books left to read and am hoping to get round to reading Transcription soon, as it has been on my TBR since shortly after it was published!

17 thoughts on “Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

  1. JaneGS says:

    I haven’t read any books in this series, but I really liked Transcription as well as A God in Ruins. I like the North Yorkshire coast as a setting having spent a wonderful few days in Whitby 10 years ago with one of my daughters, but the plot does sound very dark.

    • Helen says:

      I loved A God in Ruins. I’m not sure why I still haven’t read Transcription, but I’m determined to get to it soon! And yes, Whitby is lovely – I always enjoy coming across it as a setting.

  2. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I’ve heard quite mixed reviews of the Jackson Brodie novels, and this one sounds particularly grim, so for now, I think I will continue my Atkinson journey by reading some more of her stand alone novels before committing to them. I have A God in Ruins and Behind the Scenes at the Museum in my Audable library, so I will see how I get on with them.

    • Helen says:

      The Brodie novels are written with a lot of humour, so even though the plots are quite grim, they don’t become too depressing to read. I do prefer Atkinson’s standalones, though, and A God in Ruins and Behind the Scenes at the Museum are two that I particularly enjoyed.

  3. heavenali says:

    I have read the other Jackson Brodie books although ages ago. I will probably get to this one too eventually. I will probably need to be in the right frame of mind for it, I don’t really like such grim stories these days.

    • Helen says:

      I find the Jackson Brodie books quite grim as well, although I think the humorous writing stops them from becoming as dark as they could have been. Definitely books you need to be in the right mood for, though.

  4. Constance says:

    I actually like the Jackson Brodie books better than her standalones and I think you did a great job capturing the quirky characters in this one and the unexpected depth of Crystal. However, I wondered if you remembered as I did that in the previous book, Jackson had called the Edinburgh detective (whose name I have forgotten but I liked her) and the phone was ringing for nine years while we waited for a new book! And then I think she is mentioned but does not appear in this book. What a tease.

  5. piningforthewest says:

    I hadn’t realised it was so long since the last Jackson Brodie book, but they’re not mt favourite. I did really enjoy Transcription though.

    • Helen says:

      No, not my favourites either. I read some negative reviews of Transcription when it first came out which put me off reading it a little bit, but I do want to read it soon and am pleased you enjoyed it!

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