“There were only so many washing-machines you could sell, but there was no limit on the trade in girls.”
Big Sky is the 5th novel in the Jackson Brodie series from Kate Atkinson. If you’ve read some (or all) of the series, then you know Jackson’s troubled background and his fractured personal life. This novel finds Brodie on the east coast of Yorkshire, split from actress Julia (did we ever think it was going to work?) and now involved with his teenage son, Nathan. Julia initially denied Jackson was Nathan’s father, but “now that the worst years had arrived, however, it seemed that she was more than keen to share him.” With Julia “ferociously busy” in her role as a pathologist in a long-standing TV series, that means Jackson has the care of Nathan and Julia’s elderly Labrador, Dido. Jackson is still doing PI work, but his already shrinking business has shrunk even further. Brodie Investigations might have a glamorous ring, but the reality of his day-to-day work is “either following cheating spouses” or with the assistance of a “particularly enticing yet lethal” Russian woman named Tatiana, constructing “the sticky insides of honeypots (or flytraps as Jackson thought of them.”
Series PI/detective novels juggle the personal lives of the main characters with the cases under investigation, so here Jackson spends quite a bit of time with his 13-year-old son Nathan, ferrying him back and forth to Julia. Reggie, a character from the third Jackson Brodie novel, When Will There Be Good News? also makes an appearance as part of a formidable two-woman police team: Reggie and Ronnie, known as the Krays. There are also scenes with Jackson’s daughter, Marlee and even Superintendent Monroe makes an appearance.
Two predators once hunted in this coastal region: Bassani and Carmody–two “council officials and respected charity supporters” who “shared an appetite for the same fodder.” They lured children “out of care homes and foster families or their own dysfunctional households.” They were lured with dangled opportunities: “amusement arcades and funfairs,” and the two predators organized “Christmas parties, outings to the countryside and the seaside, camping and caravan holidays.” There were “rumors of a third man. Not Savile.” Bassani died in prison, Carmody is about to be released, and some people in this seaside town wonder if he’ll “name names.”.…
Big Sky contains a large cast of characters, and it’s hard at times to place these characters in terms of the plot as culpability/roles are obfuscated for a great deal of the book. We’re initially introduced to two sisters who then disappear until about 3/4 of the way through the book, and then there’s this handful of golf playing, smug affluent men who smirk at each other while making obscure in-jokes. This construction: adding characters without placing them in the context of the plot was unfortunate, but Brodie is a great character, and after a while, I gave up trying to puzzle out who all these people were and how they connected and instead just enjoyed the read.
I enjoyed the portrayal of the high-maintenance wives who choose to look the other when it comes to just how their husbands make all that money. These are women who just can’t walk away, so there’s a high price for all that luxury. One of my favorite characters was Crystal: a plastic construct of a living walking Barbie doll. Ex manicurist, ex-topless model, ex- a lot of things, she has emerged and pragmatically accepted her position; she might as well have sex with one man rather than hundreds. She’s a good mother and a good stepmother. Her predecessor died in a strange accident after becoming a bit of a nuisance, but still … Crystal thinks it’s best not to go there.
Crystal was hovering around thirty-nine years old and it took a lot of work to stay in this holding pattern. She was a construction made from artificial materials–the acrylic nails, the silicone breasts, the polymer eyelashes. A continually renewed fake tan and a hairpiece fixed into her bleached blonde hair completed the synthetic that was Crystal.