‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ by Kate Atkinson

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2010, 350p.

Kate Atkinson is a favourite author of The Ladies in my bookgroup.  We’ve read several of her Jackson Brodie books, and Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of my all-time favourite books.  But I must admit that I think I’m just starting to tire a little of the Jackson Brodie series.

I looked back at the reviews I’d written of her books on this blog- One Good Turn  and When Will There Be Good News (and I’d read Case Histories and Behind the Scenes before I’d started blogging here) and I think that I could make exactly the same observations about this book as I did with her earlier ones:  that you need to suppress your fear of being unable to keep up with such a huge array of characters because it all comes clear at the end; that red herrings and coincidences abound;  that she is really having fun with the genre etc. etc.

Atkinson does reference events that occurred in her other books, but not so much that you’d feel excluded if this was the first Jackson Brodie you’d read.  It’s like a little wink to the initiated, but unfortunately The Ladies and I found ourselves racking our brains to remember the specifics of the earlier books. I noticed in my other reviews that I didn’t say much about plot- no doubt from a fear of giving things away in a plot-driven book- but I found that my reviews were of absolutely no use in triggering memories of the book I’d read.

So, in anticipating that a) Kate Atkinson will probably write another Jackson Brodie after all even though she said she mightn’t  and that b) I’ll probably read it—- here’s a plot and character summary for future reference.

  • Jackson Brodie- our main character from the series; ex-cop turned private investigator; still smarting from being ripped off by his second wife Tessa; coming to terms with the idea that he has fathered young Nathan with Julia the actress
  • Tracy Waterhouse- in her fifties; a large woman; recently retired from the police force
  • Tilly – an aging soap-opera actress, frightened by her rapidly-gathering dementia which is opening up regrets from her past
  • Kelly Cross- a prostitute who sells her daughter Courtney to Tracy
  • Courtney- four years old, says little but gives the thumbs-up to life

In this book, as in Atkinson’s others, there are doubles, parallels and counterpoints.  Tracy witnesses the abusive treatment of a child in a shopping centre and somehow ends up with the child Courtney: Jackson witnesses a dog being mistreated and somehow ends up with the dog. There are two murdered prostitutes; two private investigators; two children looking for their roots; lost memories and lost children, and the hunters become the hunted. There are two narratives here- one is a flashback to 1975 policing which evokes the television series Life on Mars beautifully, while the other is set six months ago.  The flashback narrative is intentionally confusing but it gradually settles into something more definite, while the current day plotline becomes far more tentative and unresolved.

The missing child is a theme in Atkinson’s writing that goes right back to Behind the Scenes and there is certainly an elegiac,yearning quality that seeps through the otherwise conventional (if subverted) crime fiction elements of the story.

But I must confess to feeling that I’d read the book before and had almost been taken back to where I started with her first book Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  I think that perhaps she should give Jackson a bit of a breather.  Although having said that, I must confess being tempted just a little by her new book.  I must just wait a while, though.

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2 responses to “‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ by Kate Atkinson

  1. I’ve always meant to read her, and have several sitting on the shelves waiting, but just haven’t got there yet. I’m not very good at reading multiple books by the same author though.

    • residentjudge

      I’m not either- I can never remember them and get frustrated that perhaps someone with a better memory than I do is gettting more out of the book than I am! Still, these books do stand alone quite well, and even though I don’t ‘do’ detective novels, I enjoy the way she mucks around with the genre.

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