The fifth novel in Atkinson's Detective Brody series finds Brodie relocated to a quiet seaside village, in the occasional company of his recalcitrant teenage son and an aging Labrador, both at the discretion of his ex-partner Julia. It's picturesque, but there's something darker lurking behind the scenes.
Using her signature narrative style, Atkinson not only tells the story from multiple points of view, but also moves back and forth in time, letting us see new sides of an incident from several characters’ perspectives. This technique feeds a rich kind of dramatic irony, as we know marginally more than the people in any one scene do, but never quite enough. As the lives of several Yorkshire couples slowly swirl out of control, with the ripples of dysfunction, buried abuse, and tightly held secrets gradually drawing Jackson into their red tide, we marvel at Atkinson’s rare ability to create in a relatively few but stunningly deft brushstrokes at least a half-dozen characters with the depth and complexity to own their own novel. Another dazzler from a writer whose talents know no bounds.
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.
Atkinson has been better at balancing personal and professional story lines, and the presence of a figure from Jackson’s past, now a cop involved in an inquiry looking at establishment figures, won’t resonate for first-timers. Series fans will best appreciate this outing.