Former soldier and policeman Jackson Brodie, who last appeared nine years ago in “Started Early, Took My Dog,” makes his long-anticipated return in Kate Atkinson’s new novel, “Big Sky.”
Although the book is billed as the fifth installment in the Brodie series, the brooding, modern-day white knight isn’t the protagonist of this alternately depressing, inspiring and slyly funny tale. In fact, he blunders into the vile conspiracy at the center of the story without realizing it and has little to do with taking the bad guys down.
As the story opens, Brodie is coping with his shambles of a personal life while working as a private detective on the west coast of England. His cases are mundane, and they clearly bore him.
The plot develops slowly at first as Atkinson introduces a cabal of seemingly ordinary professional men whose sideline is luring girls into the sex trade. The men’s wives and children are either unaware of where their wealth comes from or don’t care to know.
The conspiracy has deep roots. Two decades earlier, police had smashed a sex trade ring and brought its leaders to justice, but there are rumors that others, including members of the British aristocracy, may have been involved. As circumstances breathe new life into the rumors, two young female police officers, including Brodie’s old friend Reggie (introduced in 2008’s “When Will There Be Good News”), are assigned to reopen the case.
The unfolding plot snags a dozen main characters in a web of duplicity, human misery, betrayal and murder that Atkinson skillfully relates from multiple points of view — investigators, criminals, family members and victims alike. The heroes of the yarn are its women. The two young police officers, one of the conspirators’ wives, and one of its victims as well, fashion a conclusion that, although not entirely lawful, is justice nonetheless.