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January 5, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Confession: I’m not especially crazy about Jackson Brodie, the sometime-PI of Kate Atkinson‘s exceptional crime novels. I mean, I’ve got nothing against the guy either, but that I’ll automatically read any book he appears in has far less to do with the man than his creator. Kate Atkinson is one of the best contemporary novelists in the English language, I only turned to crime (fiction) when she started writing it, and her crime fiction is as good as anything she ever wrote, including my favourite of her novels, the award-winning Behind the Scene at the Museum. The latest in her Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took My Dog, definitely doesn’t disappoint.

The novels in the Brodie series definitely stand alone, though first-time readers will find themselves wading through some treacherous back story. Jackson Brodie is the link between the books, not so much as the solver of the crimes in question, but as a magnet for incident, and co-incident. Stories have always happened around him, beginning with the murder of sister in childhood, which becomes his most formative experience.

In Started Early, Took My Dog, Jackson is living even further than usual on the fringes of the law, still recovering from the fraudster wife who stole his money, still pining for Louise Monroe up in Scotland, still connected to Julia who knows him better than anyone, and striving to be a good father to his children in spite of everything else that has happened.

But of course, his story remains on this novel’s periphery. At its centre is Tracy Waterhouse, a  retired police officer who, in a moment of weakness, ends up with a child that isn’t her own, and then suddenly finds herself pursued by a variety of unsavoury characters. One of these characters is Jackson Brodie, who’s trying to track down the origins of Hope McMaster, a woman who’d been adopted thirty-five years before whose story is vaguely connected to Tracy’s through a social worker’s file. As in all of Atkinson’s novels, the past and the present are impossibly intertwined. Who was Hope McMaster? Who is the child in Tracy’s care? What are the Leeds police force still trying to hide after all these years?  And who is the strange man who appears to be on Jackson’s trail?

I find reading Kate Atkinson to be a most intoxicating experience– her immersion in her characters’ thoughts, and how she does twists and turns like nobody’s business, and just when I think I’ve got it figured out, she twists it around again. She works coincidence in this way that makes me marvel at the world– not relying on it as a plot device as bad writers do, but instead coincidence is her entire preoccupation, her books are an examination of it. Her books are funny, smart, never saccharine. And they are dark, unflinching in their assertion that the world is a dangerous place to be a woman, the stories violent, gruesome at times, highlighting injustice, but then Atkinson’s narratives culminate in their own kind of justice– goodness triumphs.

So Jackson Brodie lives to fight yet another day, but even more importantly, Kate Atkinson lives to write another book, and how fortunate are we for that.

One thought on “Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson”

  1. patricia says:

    Wonderful review. And yes – aren’t we all so lucky to read yet another book by Ms. Atkinson? Behind the Scenes at the Museum was truly amazing, and I’m surprised at how hooked I was into reading Emotionally Weird. I recommend her books to anyone who is willing to listen, and even those who aren’t.

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