BIG SKY. By Kate Atkinson. Little Brown. 386 pages. $28.
Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer
Most mystery novelists move their minor characters around the chessboard of their story like pawns, always highlighting the kings and queens of their plots.
Not Kate Atkinson. She delves deep into the lives of what seem minor characters far from the heinous crime at the heart of this story. A trophy wife, her nerdy stepson, a man who loses both his job and his wife, along with just one character connected to the crime itself — she carries us so deep into their lives, with such deceptive ease, that we lose our concern about where it’s all going. She leaves one person to bring all the elements of the story together: Jackson Brody.
He’s the ex-cop private eye who is haunted by a family tragedy. Last seen in Case Histories, Atkinson’s previous mystery and now a successful series streaming on TV, he resurfaces in real time with a teenage son. He’s not much in the “…real business of detecting” now; he’s dealing with “…Entrapping unfaithful boyfriends and husbands … just high-functioning morons.” He is, however, what one character calls “…a friend to anarchy.”
“A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen” is his operative mantra, and it serves both him and Atkinson well here. If he didn’t see that girl get into the car … If the trophy wife didn’t hire him … If he didn’t tackle that man about to throw himself off a cliff … The author gives him a grasp on the reins of each of the elements in the story, and lets his “grey cells” lead us to a gut-wrenching conclusion. It’s there where his sense of justice obtains: “He wasn’t a vigilante, he really wasn’t, although his idea of right and wrong didn’t always conform to the accepted legal standard.” And it doesn’t here, most certainly, and most entertainingly. There are so many things to admire about Atkinson’s writing, but the best is the fact that the reader doesn’t notice any of them.
Big Sky is a good book.