Jackson Brodie is a divorced ex-cop with a struggling PI business when three cases fall into his lap. After a new clue turns up, sisters Julia and Amelia Land hire Jackson to look into the disappearance of their sister Olivia thirty years ago. Ten years after his daughter’s death in an office shooting, Theo Wyre hires Jackson when his own investigation hits a wall. And Shirley Morrison, whose sister went to jail for the murder of her husband, hires Jackson to find her niece who ran away from her adoptive home and hasn’t been heard from since.
Jackson has a lot on his plate already but he is also dealing with his ex-wife, a thinly characterized shrew who seems to live only to make Jackson’s life more difficult, and his daughter Marlee who seems in an awful hurry to grow up. He also has a toothache he can’t find time to treat and it sure seems like someone is trying to kill him.
Atkinson rotates chapters between the perspectives of Jackson himself, Amelia Land, Theo Wyre, and a mysterious woman named Caroline. That and her focus on Jackson’s personal life leaves precious little time for actual investigation. This is not your typical whodunit with a long list of suspects and clues. Events conspire to reveal the solutions moreso than Jackson actually finding them on his own. Even then there are still some ambiguities to the characters at the end of the book, though Atkinson does play fair with the reader.
Atkinson’s prose is exemplary but her plotting choices are a little off-putting. For one thing, the character of Josie, Jackson’s ex-wife, is a complete misfire. Presumably intended to garner sympathy for Jackson the real effect is just to make the reader wish to get back to detective work. Similarly, Julia and Amelia Land have a Grey Gardens energy that is really aggravating.
Jackson Brodie’s character isn’t particularly well-defined here. He’s just a guy a bunch of stuff happens to. That makes it hard to judge whether or not to continue with the series, which so far comprises five books. If I thought that future entries would stick to the business of solving a murder I’d be more interested.