“Nadja Wilk and her sister, Katja. They came from Gdansk, where they had worked in a hotel. Real people with real lives, not just ciphers for the tabloid newspapers”. Big Sky, the latest instalment of Atkinson’s series featuring private detective Jackson Brodie, starts with Nadja and Katja. Ready to leave their hotel jobs for better chances in the UK, they Skype with impressive businessman Mark Price who promises good placements and offers to pay for their travel. But: “The office was a fake. Anderson Price associates was a fake, Mark Price was a fake. Only the Rolex was real”. As always, Atkinson nails the nature of violence against women in this funny, smart and devastating book. She deals with hard subjects brilliantly, giving characters who elsewhere might simply be exploited victims both relatable features and agency.
We find Jackson looking after with his 13-year-old son while taking various low rent private eye jobs. Jackson is still for justice, though not always in a strictly legal way. He remains focussed on the unwanted and uncared-about. The book’s epigraph is revealing. Malcolm X: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who is for or against it”.
Many memorable characters from previous books turn up, which felt to me like a huge treat. Skilfully plotted, this gripping mystery sees many strands and lives woven together. A woman is murdered in her garden; a young girl hitch-hikes a lift from a lonely sea front; an interesting teenage boy looks after his young half-sister in between shifts at a ghost train and failing seaside theatre. Jackson remains an engaging commentator on the meaning of unexpected events. Watching a mother beat the living daylights out of someone who may have a clue about her missing child: “Jackson glanced around to see how the rest of the café’s denizens were reacting to this, but they all seemed to have quietly disappeared. Jackson didn’t blame them. Wives and mothers, he thought, you never wanted to get on the wrong side of them. Madonnas on steroids”.
Atkinson’s sentences are both completely precise and deceptively easy to read. I think it must take a great deal of work to produce something that seems so effortless.
There are two good dogs in this book.