Well! When I started reading Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky I must confess the title led me to expect a family saga along the lines of The Thornbirds, or perhaps a story about the American wild west. Obviously, I hadn’t done my homework about the author. Kate Atkinson is in fact a contemporary British crime writer with many novels to her credit that feature a recurring main character/hero by the name of Jackson Brodie.
Brodie is an ex-cop who hung out his own shingle as a private investigator after he left the force. Like Father Brown, Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, Brodie has an uncanny knack for getting himself in the middle of nasty crimes that have unlikely connections to people he knows. Big Sky is set in the northeast of England in smaller, working-class towns where everybody seems to know everyone else. Yorkshire and its local culture are integral threads woven throughout the story.
We’re first introduced to three golfing buddies whose friendships go back a number of years. They come from different backgrounds and the ever-present British class system has a lingering effect on their ongoing relationship. For a variety of reasons, they have a tenuous loyalty to each other. Known as The Three Muskateers, Stephen, Andy, and Tommy have legitimate businesses that front more nefarious goings-on behind the scenes. Who would ever think that a lawyer, hotel owner and haulage entrepreneur would be the kingpins in a network of human trafficking and other sordid activities? The fourth member of their golfing foursome, Vince, by virtue of his social standing and background is not included in their business activities, but because he once saved the life of Stephen when they were teenagers, he’s accepted on the periphery of their social activities.
Stephen the lawyer is married to Sophie, a socially presentable partner. Andy and Tommy are each on wife number two. Andy’s wife Rhoda is adequate for his needs and Tommy’s new wife Candy is a walking, talking Barbie-doll with a secret past. Vince’s wife Wendy has kicked him out of the house. He’s lost his job and company car and he’s living in an unsavory little flat pondering what to do with the rest of his life. Then Wendy is murdered. Whodunnit? Even Jackson Brodie has a string of bad marriages and relationships that he’s trying to juggle to accommodate the needs of his two different children from different mothers. Lots of juicy subplots that include the various children of the characters are tossed in to sweeten the pot.
Kate Atkinson is a marvelous writer. She has a subtle sense of humour and her characters are exquisitely detailed, right down to what they like to eat. The good guys and bad guys are fairly evident right from the beginning but the reader is drawn along in a steady plot development that keeps us engaged right until the end. Will the human trafficking ring be exposed and the perpetrators brought to justice? What secrets do the characters have? Atkinson probably could have finished the story a bit earlier. There’s a story-line at the end that I could have lived without but perhaps it’s a leadup to a future book. Now that I know Atkinson’s stock-in-trade, I’ll definitely be reading more of her books. I loved this one, despite its overabundance of coincidences and convenient overlaps. We keep hoping the bad guys are going to get their comeuppance but the suspense lies in the series of events that gets us there. I’d rate Big Sky 8 out of 10 and I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.
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