Hard-boiled with a heart of gold what more do you want in a private eye? But Jackson Brodie, in Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog, is no stereotypical gumshoe. For one thing, the Yorkshireman reads Emily Dickinson, quoted in the novel’s title. A recurrent character in previous Atkinson novels, Brodie here shares a plot with the equally compelling Tracy Waterhouse, a retired Police Superintendent turned mall cop.
Atkinson’s wonderfully woven tale features more complex and credible characters than are often found in the murder mystery genre. And narrator Graeme Malcolm realizes them with pitch-perfect, understated brio befitting the grief, longing, jadedness, and cautious joy they variously express. While the characters all possess been-around-the block, self-mocking voices, Malcolm, while making each personality distinct, conveys the raw and secret sorrow that’s within them all underneath the cynicism.
Early in the story, Tracy acts on a radical impulse. Middle-aged and single, she takes a child actually purchases one from a criminal and abusive mother. Handing the mother a wad of cash intended for home renovations in exchange for a bedraggled 4-year-old girl, Tracy begins a fugitive life, instantly, unsentimentally mothering on the fly. She’s pursued, but not, as she assumes, for kidnapping, but because years earlier she investigated the murder of a prostitute before superiors took the case from her. That case featured the first of the novel’s many ‘lost children’: the prostitute’s son.
This same crime draws Brodie’s interest on behalf of a client seeking her biological mother. Forever haunted by the murder of his sister when he was a child, Brodie is aware of his penchant for lost girls and the women they have become, both professionally and in his failed marriages.
Meanwhile, there is a third central character, the elderly, increasingly senile actress, Tilly Squires, playing her last role on a TV soap and still mourning the baby she aborted decades ago, while under the spell of a rival actress ‘friend’. Malcolm movingly and without melodrama takes us afloat her streams of consciousness and stumblings for elusive words and wallets.
Atkinson’s plot threads back and forth between the 1970s and the present; Malcolm agilely indicates time changes with the subtlest of pauses and inflections. Shepherding us through the unraveling of the mystery, he lets us experience the palpable sense Atkinson conveys of the profound, unremitting consequences born of an abandoned or neglected child. But in the end, we also feel, as Dickinson notes, that hope can be “heard it in the chillest land, and on the strangest sea”. Elly Schull Meeks
Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective - a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other - or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly.
Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue - that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.
©2010 Kate Atkinson (P)2011 Hachette Audio
Besides hating the fowl language, I loved this book! Out of all the books I have read over the years, this is the first time I've reviewed any of them! This was tragic, yes, and heart rending, yes, but I found myself laughing as much as crying because it was too sooooory funny! The narrator reading the story had a perfect voice for this. And I would find myself more times laughing at the dry humor than not! Just loved it
The title of this book has a whimsical sound to it--kind of like a fun romp through the day with the pup. In fact, it is a story about normal lives that sometimes take tragic turns that make it impossible to go back no matter how much they might want to.
Don't get me wrong, though. Overall this was not a sad or depressing tale--but it could have been were it not for the expert subtle handling of each character by Kate Atkinson and the superb narration by Graeme Malcolm. Sometimes I actually laughed out loud.
I note other reviews that indicate "couldn't finish" or "hard to follow" and I agree this could be the case if you don't make an effort to pay attention early on. It gets much easier to put things together as it progresses--and you will be rewarded with some rich dialogue if you hang in there.
Sure there are a lot of people to keep straight--a Tracy, Tilly, Courtney, Jackson, another Jackson, Linda, Kitty, etc. They each have a role to play and are crucial to the outcome. If you liked this author's other works, I think you will like this one. Even though the detective has appeared in previous books, this is not really a series which must be read from the first. It might help, but not necessary.
Thoroughly enjoyed and recommended!
I find it interesting the way this author links her different books. They are not exactly a series, yet certain characters are echoed from earlier stories. For a murder mystery, this author provides more than just suspense: Her prose and her POV techniques and her character development are worthy of a more literary genre.
An interesting tale, well told. It is part mystery, part romance in the classical sense, part sheer entertainment. Note that it is part of a continuing series by Kate Atkinson. Something I wished I knew before starting this one.
This was an effective book. Complicated story, many characters to keep track of. Too much back story on almost everyone of them. However, in the end, Kate Atkinson delivered a credible tale of why a murder occurred years before, and why it was so effectively covered up until some of the investigators decided to look into it again. In addition to the mystery there is much examination of the pain resulting from bad decisions made among family members in a complex web of relationships.
I highly recommend this book--the story is provocative and gripping and the narration is absolutely wonderful!
Malcom's narration is so pitch-perfect that I was very disappointed to find that he doesn't narrate the other books in the series!
I prefer unabridged audiobooks, so can't listen in all one sitting. But this is a book I will listen to again.
Other readers admitted to some confusion caused by the changes in time and the number of characters. I did go back to listen to a couple of chapters from the beginning when I found myself lost or distracted, but didn't find this a problem, as I considered the author's turn of phrase and the narrator's interpretation of the characters to be so enjoyable.
Had I been reading a print version, there are several places I would have gone back to clarify characters, etc, but even with the "wait, who was that again?" thought, this is a superb listen. The internal dialogue of both main characters--Tracy and Jackson--is very funny, but even better, funny in different ways. That has to be hard to do--varying the wit to reflect their different personalities. It's a great story with a great plot. If you pick up the literary references, great, but it doesn't matter if you don't (my favorite was Cicero's O tempora O mores coming from the mouth of a retired criminal). The narration is excellent. I hated to have it end.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Jackson Brody, Tracy Waterhouse, Courtney, Tilly and many more characters with depth and charm.
I will be a Jackson Brody fan from now on and am thrilled to know he lived before this book!
Like mysteries, not much in to SciFi, hate vampire books. Like most all years of history.
Although I am an American and this book is very English, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The snappy and different writing style made me laugh several times. What I enjoyed the most was when the author wrote the character's thoughts as they popped into their heads in what was sometimes a connected yet somewhat scrambled fashion. Initially the title caught my eye. The pleasant surprise was that the writing was just as unique as the title.
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