Map of Blue Book Balloon

22 September 2019

Review - Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Cover design by Richard Ogle/TW
Big Sky (Jackson Brodie 5)
Kate Atkinson
Doubleday, 18 June 2019
HB, e, audio, 368pp, 11 hours 20min

I bought my copy of this book and listened to the audio version via a subscription service.

It's all Kate's fault. Not Atkinson (though I'[ll come to her in a moment), no I mean Kate of For Winter Nights. I had this on my pile to read over Christmas, but then Kate's review came along and I couldn't leave it till then, but I had blogtour commitments and stuff, so I Audioed it while driving between home and station.

The upshot of which is that I now have NO Atkinson to read over Christmas AND I have to catch up on Jackson Brodie... which actually means I have four Atkinsons to read over Christmas, I think? So perhaps I should be thanking the Kates, actually.

Anyway. Let's frame things right. This is not a crime novel. It doesn't have a detective who, in the teeth of the police, gets to the bottom of things. it doesn't feature a DI who has gone maverick, a cynical pathologist, or a picturesque country setting.

Well, it kind of does. Jackson Brodie is a detective, but he doesn't defy the police and find the truth. He kind of stumbles along, musing on life, and plays his part. There is a DI but she is peripheral, a pair of detective constables are more central but, again, they don't really solve anything. And there is a pathologist but she's a character in a long running TV drama, Collier, and played by Brodie's ex, Julia (whose comments on various things intercut this book). Collier is filmed on the East Coast of Yorkshire so, really, there is a picturesque setting.

But I hold to my view that this isn't crime. While crimes occur in the book - oh so many crimes - and there is even a body found in a garden, the book is not about the process of solving the crimes so much as about people - about women - getting out from under their shadow. No, this is a book about the evil that men do, and I have to say, it didn't make me feel great about being a man.

The background to the story is that a child trafficking and exploitation ring, wound up several years before, is being reinvestigated (by the two DCs, Reggie and Ronnie (I know)). This has caused various guilty parties some concern and arms are being twisted to command silence. At the same time, a human trafficking operation run by three unlovely men is raking in money hand over fist. The book is about those caught up in the two schemes, the women who were scarred by the earlier one, and the women deceived and abused in the second. It makes for very raw, very distressing reading (if you let yourself think about it, that is, which of course you should) and, as I have said, for me, quite shaming reading because really the men in here do not acquire themselves well (mostly - there are exceptions, Jackson himself, of course, a young man named Harry and drag queen Bunny).

I've seen criticism of this book that it ends too soon, that it's not, well, crime-y enough but I think that misses the point. This book is about lives. It's about consequences. About fear and complicity. All of that needs space to develop and - while obviously it can be done - that doesn't require a Mystery, Clues and a Solution. (I'm really not trying to diss crime fiction here, I love it, especially a decent series and this is a series so we have that, I'm just saying, come to this book with the right expectations).

So I loved that, even after the crime-y bit was resolved, the story would down gently, sorting out other threads concerning Jackson, Harry, his stepmum and others, bringing bits of redemption, showing some of the guilty being punished - and others escaping. It's a tense story focussed on unbelievable levels of suffering and betrayal and it felt right to come back up gradually. At least it did to me.

I also don't want to give the impression this book is dark or depressing. Well yes it is dark, in places, the overall impression I took away was its spot-on portrayal of a while gallery of contrasting, alive, real people. The different voices come through so strongly - Julia in the little asides that come in to Jackson's mind all the time (both their appositeness and the fact that he keeps recalling them), the repeated motif of 'Tina [or Christina, or Christina and Fi] running away', Jackson recalling the label of 'Luddite' flung at him by his daughter, Harry's mild teenage angst and his incomprehension of Miss Dangerfield's feelings - which the reader will have spotted as well as the action she has taken, and so much more. Of course the audio version has Jason Isaacs' (who played Brodie in a TV adaptation of Case Histories) who injects life and action into all the voices - coping superbly with the interjections, and range of accents.

As I have said, all this now gives me the wonderful dilemma of when and how I can go back through the previous Jackson Brodies...

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