This is the fourth novel featuring Jackson Brodie, a 50-year-old semi-retired private investigator who conjures up Kojak, for those readers old enough to remember him. [Kojak was an American television series airing from 1973 to 1978 starring Telly Savalas as Kojak, an older, attractive, charming detective – seemingly bumbling and incompetent, but although slow to see the light, eventually solving crimes because of his stubborn tenacity and willingness to bend the rules.]
This book is replete with plot conventions readers of Atkinson have come to admire and expect: stream of consciousness narration by a bevy of eventually interconnected characters; bemused and amusing contemplation of life’s quirkiness; a tribute to the ineluctable hand of fate determined, ironically, by accident and coincidence; myriad parallel plot themes mirroring one another as they crisscross through the story; and characters that serve as Greek choruses, drawing all the disparate themes together and anchoring them to a common ground.
The story begins with an abandoned child in 1975 found by two members of the police, including a female cop, Tracy Waterhouse, looking into a murder. This story alternates with the present day, and Jackson Brodie’s search for the birth parents of an adopted woman from New Zealand. We also follow what has happened to Tracy, who is now, like Jackson, also fifty, and like Jackson, searching for the meaning of her life. Jackson calls himself “an old dog looking for a new kennel.” Instead, he gets a new dog.
In the course of the story, we also revisit characters from previous books whose lives still intersect with Brodie in new ways. There are a great many characters and differing points of view, but because they are all interrelated, the story is not at all hard to follow.
Some of the mirrored themes in this story include:
Kids given no names
Kids given false names
Kids told to take other names
Kids whose parentage is unknown
Kids rescued from abuse
Kids who bring out caring and protectiveness in adults
Dogs with unsatisfactory names
Dogs whose ownership is unknown
Dogs rescued from abuse
Dogs who bring out caring and protectiveness in adults
Women who can’t have kids
Women who aborted kids
Women who want kids
Women who steal kids
Kids who don’t know they have siblings
Jackson Brodie (Jackson B.) hired by a woman to find her family
Brian Jackson (B. Jackson) hired by a man to find the same family
Tilly losing her mind
Courtney waving her wand
“Fiction had never been Jackson’s thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale.”
Evaluation: This is my least favorite of the four Brodie novels, but that doesn’t by any means indicate that I didn’t like it. Atkinson is a wonderful writer.
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2011