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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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  • Patricia
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 08-28-11


Kate Atkinson does a great job of combining the foibles of human behavior, irony, humor, all wrapped up in a mystery....couldn't be a better package. And the narrator, Mr. Malcolm does s superb job telling the story with a wry humor evident in his voice. A great pleasure, and I don't say that too often!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

A Bittersweet Beauty

Well this is the sort of book that will keep you up listening way too late at night and most likely making sure you have pockets to hold the player as you go about your day. I listened almost nonstop. I have loved each book in this four book series. Maybe this last installment being my favorite. Just know that each book fits together perfectly, building upon the last and snapping together--each as a piece in a large jigsaw puzzle.

Much of this story takes place in Yorkshire. It was an added treat for me as I have rented the National Trust house for a week years ago at Fountains Abbey where some of the action takes place. To me, Atkinson captured that location beautifully, it was like being there again.

Be aware that Atkinson tackles difficult topics in this book--which becomes a time bending look at people at risk in society and those meant to help. Police, private investigators,social service, actresses, children and dogs all play vital roles.

This is the last book in the series (so far) and I know Atkinson has been interviewed about the possibility of a fifth book and she has said no. While I would love to hear more from Jackson Brodie and hope she continues, I can understand. If I view the series as a whole--seeing the puzzle picture as I stand back--I think I can fill in the missing bits. It all makes sense.

I am so glad I stumbled on Atkinson and her writing. She is a gem. This is a series not to be missed if you love complex literate mysteries with depth. Fantastic.

31 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Beverly
  • Goleta, California 93117
  • 03-24-11

For the Love of Children and Dogs

Kate Atkinson has once again written one of the most interesting and touching novels I have been entertained by in a long time. Saving a child and a dog are only the tip of this tale which weaves its heartfelt story with well developed characters you care about even with their many flaws. A mystery, a love story, a story of redemption- I recommend this book whole heartedly.

39 of 43 people found this review helpful

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  • Rockie
  • Mentone, AL, United States
  • 04-07-11

Pleasant surprise

I downloaded this book as a filler in until I got my next credits, and chose it strictly for its quirky title. (I never heard of the author.) I hoped it would be a good listen, and I wasn't disappointed. The characters are well formed and real, not ultra glamourous, as they have been in some of the books I've listened to recently. The plot held my interest throughout. It also had that real effect. It was a story that could plausibly happen to any of us, and kept me listening to find out how everything would turn out in the end. The narrator's British accent threw me off at first, only because I had to listen just a tad bit closer to understand the words. Once I got used to it, I found his voice smooth and delightful to listen to. I look forward to listening to another one of Ms. Atkinson's books. This one deserves all five stars.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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Not your mother's murder mystery

Calling it a murder mystery really does an injustice to this story. The story is so complex and multi-layered, you won't be able to stop listening. The multiple plot lines weave and intersect the past with the present. It's not a casual listen, as you must be constantly alert to which time line and plot you are following. The characters are so well-developed and real, you feel like they could pop into reality at any second. This is a very enjoyable listed, and the narrator's accents add to the ambiance of the story. I'm going to search out some more books by this author and narrator.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Liatris
  • Salem, OR, United States
  • 05-15-11

Complex and entertaining

I had a bit of trouble getting things straight at the beginning of this novel, but as the story progressed I couldn't stop listening (got a lot of dishes washed!). The narrator was fabulous - with subtle character differences and a dry tone that had me laugh out loud in places. I found the characters believable and -not appealing, really, but I could like them and have compassion for them. The little girl was worth the price of the book. A crazy scene at the climax of the plot, with enough denouement to give a good sense of closure. I bought it for the title, but will go back and listen again for the quality. Looking forward to "reading" more of Atkinson's work.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 05-02-12

Such a complex plot

Wow! I was not expecting this. I thought this would be a cute little mystery. It turned out to be a complex book with a terrific plot and clever characters. The narrator is perfect for the book. I had to listen to it twice just so I could see how Kate Atkinson had pulled it off. Excellent use of a credit for me. Remarkably entertaining.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Came for the Dog, stayed for the plot.

I, as another review did, got this book on a whim, and because I liked the title. I'm a sucker for dog stories, and if the word "Dog" is in the title, I will definitely check it out. This story follows two people who have, through some buried, previously unaknowledged, unfulfilled desires, acquired dependents that alter the course of their lives. The first is a man, a detective, who becomes the owner of a small dog, a Border Terrier. The other is a woman, a retired policewoman, who - in action completely outside of her previous experience- impulisvely "buys" a 5 year old girl from a preoccupied prostitute. Both of these characters must learn to live with and care for their new charges, and while they do not know each other, their lives become entwined by the course of events both past and present. At the heart of this story is a murder mystery, the circumstances of which unfold, curling back into time as the lives of the two main charaters hurtle forward. Other characters appear and become entangled in the plot as well, and the whole thing becomes a giant soup of chance meetings and twisted connections that are just as strange as real life. I really enjoyed the ride this story took me on, and loved all the characters I encountered. The only thing I never learned, as all the loose ends tied up, was why the book was titled as it was. Still, it is great fun, and Graeme Malcom is a terrific reader.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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for the want of a nail ...

There aren't many books I would care to listen to again, but long before it was over - I knew I'd want to hear it again.

The stories of the characters are unraveled and re-woven with subtle twists that allow you to be come a secret witness to events and inside participant to the story!

The narrator's voice was perfect pairing to the author's tone of understated humor & intelligence in the story telling.

Kudos to Tilly! I will miss her the most.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • susan
  • vaaville, CA, United States
  • 04-19-11

Not what I expected

I hadn't read any of Kate Atkinson's books before but I liked this title and the description sounded interesting. I wouldn't have downloaded this book if I'd realized it was part of a series. The book was a lot darker than I thought it would be. Most of the characters I had to work at liking, they were pretty jaded with life. However, the writing was good and the reader was fine. I liked it enough to download the first novel containing these characters, hoping to understand how they got to where they were emotionally in this book.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful