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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

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  • Overall
  • Taryn
  • Suffern, NY, United States
  • 04-20-11

Hard to follow

I enjoyed, Case Studies,however, after that one I have found Ms. Atkinson's later books a bit hard to follow. She has good concepts but somehow the stories seem to lose me after a while! I think this is the last one I will purchase.

6 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
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Kept putting me to sleep

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed Case Histories show on PBS the last two years so decided on a whim to download When Will There Be Good News and was surprised at the depth the show had to leave out. I thoroughly enjoyed that book and was very impressed with that reader, so I downloaded the other two available titles in the series. I was really looking forward to this as it's the only one that would be completely new as the others were dramatized in the TV series. I don't know if this book is that much duller or if I don't react as well to the reader, but it was quite a let down. I'll probably try again soon to see if I was just not in the right mood or was too tired when I tried to listen.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

just could not get in to this at all.

did not keep my interest, seemed choppy, and I could not finish it. maybe if I tried again but for right now, no.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful