“What he had felt for most of his life was that he was living on in the aftermath of a disaster, in the endless postscript of time that was his life following the murder of his sister and the suicide of his brother. He had drawn those terrible feelings inside himself, nourished them in solitary confinement until they formed the hard, black nugget of coal at the heart of his soul, but now the disaster was external, the wreckage was tangible, it was outside the room he was sleeping in.”
“You’re going the wrong way,” a causal comment from a woman on the roadside made to Jackson Brodie has a profound, prophetic effect on the man and his life in the days and weeks that follow. As if the stranger had cast a spell on him, Jackson boards a train that speeds him not toward his London home and his new life there, but toward Edinburgh, the city he had fled three years prior after becoming involved in a series criminal investigations. Upon entering the Edinburgh train station, the train crashes, killing hundreds and leaving Brodie with little memory of his recent past.
The train crash has a profound effect not only on Brodie, but on all of the characters in the book, scattering them as if they are bowling pins and tearing apart their stories and completely re-threading them, tying them to one another in ways none of them could have predicted.
There is Louise Monroe, the gritty police Detective whom Brodie met briefly during his stay three years earlier: drawn into the story as a first responder to the crash (who does not see Brodie’s dramatic rescue by a young girl) and later when a just-released, convicted murderer of a local woman’s family goes missing in the crash and again even later when Brodie’s young rescuer, a teen named Reggie, calls Louise to report that her boss is missing. Reggie’s boss, it turns out, is the very woman — named Joanna Hunter — that Louise fears the missing murderer has set out to find.
As if that does not complicate the plot enough, the story of young Reggie is also deeply tied to the crash. Recently orphaned by both her mother and her mentor, her closet ties are to her boss, to whom she feels a deep connection. A witness of the train disaster, Reggie is one of the first to arrive at the site and it is her CPR skills that save Brodie. When Detective Louise Monroe refuses to look into Joanna Hunter’s disappearance, Reggie tracks down a confused and severely injured Brodie as asks, in repayment for her CPR ministrations, Brodie to help her find Joanna.
As the story unfolds, the pieces of several cases begin to tie all of the characters into tighter and tighter relation with one another. Soon the murder of Joanna’s family, her disappearance, the missing murderer, the train crash, and the fates of Brodie, Reggie, Louise, and Joanna become one intertwined story.
Filled with Atkinson’s trademark deep character developments and with her teasing manner of leaving readers only small bread crumbs, one at a time, about the mystery and about the characters in it. Those elements combine with her poetic prose to create an ending that will keep you guessing until the final pages.