I started the 5th and final Jackson Brodie, Big Sky, in bed in rainy Berkeley, but read most of in a completely different world, on the beach in Mexico. It was a slightly out-of-character trip for me. I’m typically a fan of holidays based around some sort of activity—hiking, skiing, exploring a new city. The kind of holidays that involve goals and destinations, and generally a quick scan of business email at the end of the day. This trip I left my work computer at home and deleted Slack and Outlook from my phone. Because while I have the willpower to force myself to do the things I don’t want to, I entirely lack the kind that stops me from engaging in compulsive behaviors such as responding to Slack messages as they come in.
My lazy holiday was off to a slightly confused start. I gave an incorrect address to the driver of my airport car-share, getting an entire van full of vacationers lost. Later, I got lost myself while searching for the trail to the beach tucked away between the massive resort hotels. But in all the ways I was most interested in the trip was going well. Blue water, wide beaches, weather just the right level of hot without being oppressive. And so I finished Big Sky over the course of maybe six hours laying on a cheap blanket in the sand, an odd compliment to the East Yorkshire coast where the book takes place.
The primary plot of Big Sky is perfectly self-contained. In the small seaside tourist trap of Bridlington, a trio of successful small businessmen, Tommy, Andy and Steve, are up to something shady. Andy’s boyhood friend Vince is going through a devastating divorce—one that might just push him over the edge. Tommy’s beautiful and much younger wife, Crystal believes that she’s being followed. His teenage son, Nathan, works a pair of hilariously dubious part-time jobs at the dilapidated boardwalk, including one that may link back to his father’s less savory business ventures.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie himself has reestablished his private detection agency on the East Yorkshire seaside. When Crystal hires him to identify her stalker, he’s drawn into a larger and more complex mystery.
Jackson’s personal life—children, exes, lovers, and professional acquaintances—run through the series in a string of irony and coincidence, with flashes of sentimentality equal to any of Jackson’s beloved country songs. Julia, sister to one of the victims of book #1 and the mother of Jackson’s son, hovers in the background, a ghost looking over Jackson’s shoulder, her opinion coloring every experience even when she isn’t present. Atkinson has also brought back much of her Edinburgh cast. Reggie, the highlight of #3, is now a Yorkshire policewoman re-investigating a long-ago crime in Bridlington. Tatiana, the dominatrix from #2, working alongside Jackson to entrap straying husbands. Even Jackson’s forever unrequited love Louise makes a brief appearance, now high in the ranks of the Edinburgh police force.