Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson

I adore Kate Atkinson’s writing, and I particularly love her Jackson Brodie series. Big Sky, the fifth book to include the exacerbating PI, finds him older, not necessarily wiser, and relocated to what he thinks is a sleepy seaside town. Waltzing in and out of his life is his former flame, the actor, Julia and their monosyllabic teenage and the lovable Labrador who, just like Jackson, is ageing – sometimes disagreeably.

When the novel opens, Jackson is in the middle of a fairly standard case, investigating a suspected adulterer. But it’s when he has a confrontation with a man on a cliff, that Jackson stumbles into something both incredibly seedy and very dangerous, not just for him, but for an ever-widening circle of victims – some who don’t even know that’s what they are.

Once more, Atkinson produces a marvellous, slow-burning and atmospheric work that not only deepens readers’ relationship with Brodie, but introduces us to a dizzying cast of characters. At first, I have to admit, I did wonder where the book was going, as so many other characters seemed to dominate the chapters and Brodie didn’t seem to get much of a chance to shine. Even so, I loved the way that, in a few words, she could capture the essence of a person – their flaws, foibles and strengths. The deceptions that seemingly decent people perpetrate on each other all while occupying high moral ground is explored and exposed. As the book continues, you become caught up in the lives and relationships of these other characters and the tangled web that is being weaved but – and this is to Atkinson’s credit – never so tangled that you can’t or don’t want to know how it’s going to unravel.

About half to two-thirds of the way through, there’s like a eureka moment where this large cast and their motivations suddenly (in my head at least) find their place and it all becomes clear, but not to the point you’re not astonished at where the finale takes you. What has already been a good read suddenly becomes a great one as you race towards a resolution and finally get to see what role, if any, Brodie will play in this masterful, twisty and clever plot.

As always, the writing is sublime and the characters so wonderfully and realistically portrayed, they breathe life into the pages. Cannot wait for her next one.

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The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

While I have been a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, I confess the last couple haven’t quite captured me in the manner of earlier ones. The reason for this, I believe, has nothing to do with the superb writing or plot which is always of such a high standard. Rather, it was the sense of absence around the primary character and the man we’ve all grown to know and love, Inspector Thomas Lynley, the intrepid Earl himself. I recall writing one review which was akin to Missing Person’s Report, so strongly did I feel he wasn’t present – bodily, yes, but it was as if he’d lost his mojo (understandable to a degree in light of his wife’s tragic death, but it was beyond that) and common sense. Fortunately, Havers was there to compensate and that she did – pop tarts and all.

With this novel The Punishment She Deserves, I was at first worried this was going to be yet another book where the reader was deprived of Lynley. While he hovers in the background for the first third, there is a good reason for that. Havers (who is on her last legs in terms of remaining with New Scotland Yard) and Detective Chief Superintendent Ardery – Lynely’s erstwhile lover and boss as well as an alcoholic – are sent to the small, ancient town of Ludlow to investigate the apparent suicide of an MP’s son – Ian Druitt, the local Deacon – who killed himself in a police cell after his arrest on a charge of paedophilia. Regarding this as a perfect opportunity to wipe his hands of Havers once and for all, the Assistant Commissioner sends Ardery and Havers to Ludlow to insure the investigation into the death of Druitt ticked all boxes, as the MP is grumbling from on high and threatening to bring down all sorts of trouble on the force. Ardery is not only tasked with running the investigation, but seeing to it that Havers fails. Warned by Lynley what’s in store, Havers is careful to toe the line… only, it’s not exactly a line she finds, but a series of curves and ellipses which prick her instincts and tell her all is not as it seems.

When Ardery refuses to listen to Havers’ concerns, going so far as to order her to falsify information, Havers is in a bind. Turning to her boss and partner, what she doesn’t expect is for him to risk his reputation and career on her behalf. Lynley’s actions see him taking over the reins of the investigation and, as a reader, it was lovely to find him – from that moment on – both very much present and accounted for.

Sent back to Ludlow to properly investigate not only that the police involved behaved appropriately, but that the entire inquiry into the death was carried out as it should have been. Moving slowly, Lynley and Havers’ investigation centres on the close-knit town folk, the families associated with the almost saintly Ian Druitt and the tightly held secrets they all guard. Trying to discover what led Ian Druitt, a man recently awarded by the town, to commit suicide proves more difficult than either Lynley or Havers counted on – that is, until they understand the man didn’t kill himself and it appears his murder covered up more than one terrible crime…

Beautifully written, this story unfurls in a steady, nail-biting way. I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling what is an incredible novel about a crime, but also about family and how it can function (or not) in the best and worst of ways, demand of us obligations and sacrifices with so few rewards. How, despite this, we fight for our loved ones, those who share our blood, for perhaps what this promises rather than the reality. All the characters are so richly drawn that while some of their actions and reasons for them are perplexing and frustrating, you champion and/or see the root of their decisions, even if they inevitably lead to disaster. You also learn the motivation behind the lies, deceptions and oft-misplaced loyalties of family, colleagues, friends, neighbours. There were times I wondered why George spent so much time unravelling a particular family dynamic or a friendship until, as the book progressed and the plot thickened and twisted and turned inside out, I began to not only understand, but become engrossed/horrified/gratified in the ties that bind, blind and seek us to make good or poor decisions as well as deadly ones.

What I really enjoyed about this novel as well (apart from seeing Lynley and Havers together and in such fine form again), was exploring what makes Isabelle Ardery tick. I have found her character such a struggle in the past. I never understood Lynley’s attraction to her and what ultimately drew him to sleep with her, nor the respect and position of authority she was given – her rank didn’t fit the persona we were presented with. I thought after the last book we were well rid of her and was grateful. This isn’t the case. Yet, Ardery’s incentives, her demons, her personal life are all explored and given depth and insights that make you not necessarily like the woman (she is her own worst enemy in that regard and hey, she has it in for Havers and no-one but no-one is allowed to give Barbara an undeserved hard time), but come to understand and even, dare I say, empathise with her and the stupid, reckless decisions she’s made and continues to make as well. George is a master when it comes to untangling the seamier side of human nature, exploring the darkness within and how we’re slaves to this even while we try to resist. She’s proven this over and over in her books and this one is no exception.

A rather long book, I nevertheless didn’t want it to end. Masterful, compelling, tightly and expertly plotted with bursts of humour, all expressed with exquisite prose, this is George at her best – Lynley and Havers too. My only disappointment is that I know I will have a long wait until the next one!

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I don’t know how it’s possible, but this series just keeps getting better and better, so much so, I need more than five stars to rate it. The only downside of this latest adventure with former LAPD detective and now cold case worker, Harry Bosch is, because I virtually inhale the book the moment I start it, it’s over far too soon.

In Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is faced with present and past dilemmas. He might be working on cold cases, but when one of his from 30 years earlier is resurrected, one which not only put a psychopath on death row, but which, if the killer’s appeal to have his sentence overturned and massive compensation paid succeeds, throws every case Harry has ever worked on, every criminal he ever helped convict, into doubt.

Claiming Harry framed him and he has the evidence to prove it, the killer’s case appears tight, so much so, Harry’s former partner is persuaded to help those assigned to investigate the matter. Things look grim for Harry, particularly since he left LAPD under less than salubrious circumstances. Determined to clear his name, he commences his own investigation.

In the meantime, he’s asked to help in a brutal double-murder. Keen to be back on the streets and working “hot”, Harry and his team uncover the corruption and cruelty of big pharma, those who benefit from its nefarious dealings, and the toll this takes on the most vulnerable in society.

Older, most definitely wiser, with the cunning of a fox and instincts of a seasoned hunter, and yet willingness to share his knowledge and experiences, if there’s one thing Harry will not stand for, it’s having his honour – as an officer of the law and man – questioned. Nor will he tolerate the motives of a good person being trashed, especially when they’re no longer there to defend themselves or explain their actions and motives. This means Harry will take terrible risks in order that the truth outs and that those who seek to bury it pay the consequences of their deception.

But Harry is dealing with those who don’t share his values and don’t care about truth – unless its silencing the man who seeks to find and expose it.

Taut, fast-paced, but without sacrificing tension or emotional integrity, this is a magnificent read that is impossible to put down. Characters from previous books such as Lucy Soto, Jerry Edgar, Mickey Haller, Harry’s daughter and others appear, their desire to help the man who has always had their back admirable, though not always successful.

Like all the Bosch books, it can be read as a standalone, but the rewards for following Harry’s career and personal life are so much richer when you have the whole context.

Highly recommended – nah, bugger that. Read it! You won’t be disappointed.



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