Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Started Early, Took My Dog is the most recent of four mystery novels by Kate Atkinson. All feature Jackson Brodie as a police inspector turned private detective – all are as wacky as can be – and I’ve loved reading each one of them.
Kate Atkinson started her writing career as a serious (seriously funny) literary novelist. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbred Book of the Year Award in 1995. After writing a couple more novels she was feeling disenchanted with the literary novel, so she wrote a mystery She found she enjoyed the writing, the book was a success in every way, and she was on her way to a series – beginning with Case Histories, followed by One Good Turn, then When Will There Be Good News?, and now Started Early, Took My Dog.
Describing Kate Atkinson’s novels as wacky doesn’t really do them justice. She writes about people who have suffered great losses, yet make their way in the world with a certain idealistic optimism, and at the same time with a fatalistic view that things may not turn out well in the end.
Started Early, Took My Dog begins with Jackson Brodie, acting without thinking, finding himself the protector of a small dog that he has physically removed from it’s abusive owner in a park. The case he is working on appears to be simple – to find the birth parents, and family members, of a woman who knows she was born in England and brought to New Zealand by her adoptive parents. Brodie, and dog, are on the case.
We also meet Tracy Waterhouse, a recently retired police detective, who is working in the same city where Jackson Brodie’s client was adopted in the 1970’s. Tracy is now working for a shopping mall security company. One fateful day Tracy witnesses a prostitute she’s had dealings with in the past, dragging a child through the mall. Fearing for the safety of the child, gives the woman some money and takes the child home – Tracy has just “bought” a child. What was she thinking?
This is a book that takes place at breakneck speed – a train barreling down the tracks with nothing to stop it. As the pieces of the puzzle from the past are revealed, those in the present are still chasing clues. The characters and the reader fly along – knowing that at some point the trajectory of the story of Jackson Brodie and the story of Tracy Waterhouse are going to collide. At one point Jackson thinks of all that he has survived in the past – including the Gulf War – and wonders if he will survive this case.
This is a novel full of children – now adults - who had no love while growing up, and are desperate as adults to love a child – and children who don’t yet realize they need the parents they will have – and one poor little dog.
Kate Atkinson says, “You've got your lone detective who is - God help us, I hate the phrase - a maverick, who is divorced, who has trouble with women but is still very much macho. And that's very much a stock figure.” It is the brilliance of this author, however, that takes this “stock figure” and gives him life as an individual that readers will love to follow through her novels.