This is a detective story but it’s incredibly clever in the way the fully-developed characters’ stories intertwine and their preoccupations clash and collide. Tracy, an ex-cop, sees a child being mistreated in the street and, bizarrely, offers to buy her on the spot. At the same time, private detective Jackson Brodie witnesses a brutish man kicking his dog and – on a similar whim to Tracy – snatches the whippet away and takes care of it.
The themes here are largely about responsibilities to protect. There are characters who can’t have children, characters who have lost children, missing children and misplaced children. Not to mention the dog. Each character has a different and convincing motive for their actions and when we look back into the past, we see the reasons behind each motion is deeply set in a disturbing incident from 1975.
This is not your ordinary detective novel. Kate Atkinson uses straight forward language flecked with perfect descriptions. When investigating adopted Hope McMaster’s past, for a long time Jackson finds nothing, her “past was all echoes and shadows, like looking into a box of fog.” And as different moments are seen from different points of view, the characters refer to what they experience in terms of what they know, often reflecting back on earlier descriptions.
Kate Atkinson deftly switches between character voices to give a well-rounded sense of scene and a clear picture of this particular part of society – crooked cops, prostitutes, aging television stars – all of whom play a crucial role in the outcome.