Jackson Brodie has made a career out of finding missing people. This line of work is somewhat of an obsession, brought on by his sister’s disappearance and murder many years before. In this, the fourth novel in a series, Jackson is searching for a young woman’s biological parents. Kate Atkinson carefully weaves this thread with several others to create a complex tale full of twists and turns. Several prostitutes have been found murdered, prompting speculation about a serial killer. Tracy Waterhouse, recently retired from the police force, impulsively rescues 4-year-old Courtney from an abusive situation, and finds herself taking on significant new responsibility. Tilly, an aging actress, struggles to cope as dementia begins to affect her work. And finally, the thirty-year-old unsolved murder of Carol Braithwaite is always lurking in the background.
All these disparate stories are related, and Kate Atkinson is a master at the slow reveal. She leaves tiny clues as she moves from one thread to the next. Some are red herrings, of course, which keeps the reader — and Jackson — guessing. Atkinson also skilfully manipulates her readers, encouraging us to make assumptions based on what hasn’t been said: Jackson’s breakthrough comes when he realizes he failed to ask the most obvious question. Each thread also features well-developed characters. Tilly’s relationship to the crimes was unclear through most of the novel, but her story was an emotional one that could almost stand on its own. Much of the novel revolved around Tracy and Courtney, and while some of their story seemed far-fetched, it provided action and pacing.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s investigation seemed superfluous and lacked excitement. Inserting Jackson into a larger crime story allowed Atkinson to continue developing his character by playing out the effects of events from earlier novels, and leaving a tiny cliffhanger for possible consideration in a future book. This was a disappointment, but Atkinson still produced a ripping good mystery that kept me engaged from start to finish.