Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Doubleday, 2019, 363 p.

The title on the cover of this is preceded by the words “A Jackson Brodie novel.” After her initial success with Behind the Scenes at the Museum, followed by two less well received novels (one of which I reviewed here) Atkinson went on to write four novels featuring her private detective of that name. She then embarked on technically accomplished (and more ambitious) novels dealing with the fallout from World War 2 in A God in Ruins, Life After Life and Transcription.

The action here revolves around towns on the Yorkshire coast in the area of Whitby and Scarborough, the hangover from the activities of two since-jailed local child abuse abetters called Bassani and Carmody, and the present-day sex-trafficking partnership of a group of golfing friends.

Oh, and there’s a murder. That, though, is resolved off-stage and does not impinge much on proceedings.

Big Sky has at least ten viewpoint characters and its chapters tend to be short – sometimes with very short sections within them from some of those different viewpoints. All this conspires to make the experience of reading Big Sky bitty.

There was something about the writing here that I found a little off. A misjudgement of tone, (female detectives named Ronnie Dubicki and Reggie Chase. Detectives called Ronnie and Reggie. Seriously?) unnecessary repetitions of phrases – though perhaps some of this was to imply Vince Ives was protesting too much – and intersecting timelines which were not well handled so that we saw the same scene’s events repeated very soon after their first appearance but with very little difference in the reader’s sense of what had occurred. Combined with the occasional descent into cliché this gave the impression, to this one anyway, that Atkinson was writing down to her readers.

This is no A God in Ruins nor a Life After Life, nor a Transcription even, but perhaps after her achievements in those books Atkinson needed a rest – or to have some fun. She overdid it though.

Pedant’s corner:- On a visit to a museum Brodie tells his son Captain Cook was the ‘first man to sail around the world.’ (No. That would be members of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition [Magellan himself did not survive the journey.]) Croyden (Croydon?) “she had strived hard” (striven,) “he’d compèred Saturday Night at the London Palladium (Sunday Night surely?) “It was a raucous lot that were in tonight” (that was in,) crack cocaine is implied to have been a drug widespread in the 1970s, (it wasn’t till the 80s) focussing (focusing.) “None of them were” (none of them was,) Mellors’ (several times, Mellors’s,) “his act finished on such a crescendo” (such a climax.) The remains of a handsome sunset was still staining the sky” (the remains … were still staining,) a missing full stop. “With his luck he would bob around till the lifeboat found him or a stray fishing vessel” (has its syntax awry; why would a lifeboat find a stray fishing vessel? Try instead, ‘till the lifeboat or a stray fishing vessel found him’,) staunch (stanch,) focussed (focused,) “the news’ afterburn” (the news’s,) staunched (stanched,) “where a cluster of bridesmaids … were waiting for them” (where a cluster …. was waiting.)

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