Started Early, Took My Dog

by Kate Atkinson

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Recommended by John Warner

At first, when it came time for me to consider Started Early, Took My Dog for The Staff Recommends, this one seemed like a no-brainer. I am a posters-on-the-wall, commemorative-magazine-with-exclusive-trading-cards fanboy of Ms. Atkinson’s books, particularly the previous three “Jackson Brodie” novels (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News).

Upon further consideration, though, I was worried. It’s almost inevitable that a series will go on too long. Rocky IV, the second entire Star Wars trilogy? Surely Atkinson would run out of interesting road for Jackson Brodie to travel.

Well, she didn’t. Started Early, Took My Dog is perhaps the best of the series and ready for enjoying even if it’s your first Brodie.

Former P.I. Brodie is now mostly retired, taking only the occasional job to stay active, and here, he’s engaged in tracking down the past for a client who was adopted and spirited out of England for Australia as a child. But Brodie is only a co-star in this edition, as we also follow the story of Tracy Waterhouse, herself a retired detective who makes a rash decision to “purchase” a small girl from a known prostitute and drug abuser.

In a moment, Tracy Waterhouse goes from spinsterhood to new mother, with the added complication that someone seems to want this child back very very badly.

As is Atkinson’s way, the story threads entangle, bringing the characters closer together throughout the novel, teasing out information in the manner of the best detective stories. One of her most remarkable talents is the way she drives the plot forward in the present, while also revealing the history that has brought the characters to the present.

Atkinson is often deservedly praised for her plotting, but she’s also at work on deeper levels and Started Early, Took My Dog becomes an extended and multi-faceted exploration of parenting and love, of the ways people fail to protect children. This could turn out bleak, but as always, Jackson Brodie is—as they say—a hoot, and Tracy Waterhouse gives him a run for his wise-cracking money.

Atkinson’s novels are simply alive, and Started Early, Took My Dog is no exception.

John Warner is the editor of The Staff Recommends and the author of Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant.

2 Comments

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Permalink for this comment Lisa von Lempke Jul 18, 2011

God yes I was disappointed by Rocky IV!

Rocky I to Rocky III positively changed my life. Then Rocky IV came out, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks in anticipation.

Then the letdown!

I considered suicide.

Still considering it, by the way.

Permalink for this comment Emmi Jul 20, 2011

I agree wholeheartedly. I have always loved Kate Atkinson’s writing, but this novel was astonishing in its tenderness, and deeply moving in its penetration and sapience. It’s also extremely gratifying to read a piece of detective fiction by a writer whose work is not characterized by any formulaic or hackneyed devices. I would recommend this unreservedly!

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