Jackson Brodie is back.
This is Atkinson’s fifth Jackson Brodie novel (Started Early, Took My Dog, 2011, etc.), but fans know that the phrase “Jackson Brodie novel” is somewhat deceptive. Yes, he is the hero in that he is a private investigator—former cop, military veteran—who solves (usually) mysteries. But he is not so much the central character as the grumpy, anxious, largehearted gravitational field that attracts a motley assortment of lost souls and love interests. In this latest outing, Jackson is a half-duty parent to his teenage son while the boy’s mother, an actor, finishes her run on a detective series. Vince Ives is a more-or-less successful middle-class husband and father until his wife leaves him, his boss makes him redundant, and he becomes a murder suspect. Crystal Holroyd—not her real name—has built a brilliant new life for herself, but someone from her past is threatening her daughter. Both Vince and Crystal seek help from Jackson, with varying results. Meanwhile, Jackson’s protégée, Reggie Chase, has risen through the ranks in the police force and is taking a fresh look at an old case. That these stories intertwine is a given. “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen” is one of Jackson’s maxims; it could also serve as an ironic epigram for Atkinson’s approach to the mystery genre. A small cast of characters collides and careens in a manner that straddles Greek tragedy and screwball comedy. The humor is sly rather than slapstick, and Atkinson is keenly interested in inner lives and motivations. There are villains, certainly—human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children figure prominently here—but even the sympathetic characters are complicated and compromised. Jackson has a strong moral code, but his behavior is often less than ethical. The same is true of Vince, Crystal, and Reggie. The deaths and disappearances that Jackson investigates change with every book, but the human heart remains the central mystery.
The welcome return of an existential detective.