‘Started Early, Took my Dog’ by Kate Atkinson

I’m a fan of Kate Atkinson’s novels.  They are deceptively simple, light touched and easy and compelling to read; they also delve into dark areas of loss and violence, and there is sly comedy and black humour in even the bleakest of situations.

Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth outing for Atkinson’s laconic ‘semi retired’ detective Jackson Brodie; but his is only one strand of the story.

Hired by a woman in New Zealand to track her roots in Leeds in the 1970s, Brodie finds no trace of her, but his investigation shakes loose evidence of an old murder, a cover up and police corruption.  Meanwhile Tracy Waterhouse, a retired policewoman, now head of security at a  shopping centre, on the spur of the moment, and haunted by memories of a case of terrible child neglect from early in her career, ‘buys’ a child from its abusive mother.  Fearful of discovery, she and the child, quietly obedient and dressed as a fairy with an increasingly broken wand, go on the run.

Tilly, an actress whose recollections of the past are gradually becoming more vivid to her than the present, witnesses Tracy’s reckless purchase, and is thrown back to memories of her own lost child.

The narrative switches back and forth between the three strands, and between the 1970s and the present, so the reader is required to pay attention, certainly in the first few pages of the book.  Thereafter the interweaving of the stories was not difficult to follow.

The themes of lost children, and especially his murdered teenage sister, the lost girl who haunts Brodie, run though the book.  The idea that it is not only the ‘deserving’ who are granted parenthood is explored through various of the relationships explored.

Brodie,  who has been unable to retain relationships with his children, his ex wives and girlfriends, it appears, can look after a dog which he rescues from its abusive owner in a scene which echoes Tracy’s  acquisition of the child.  The only difference between the two being that passers-by intervene when they witness a dog being mistreated, but not a child.

Part of the way through the novel I started to get a little annoyed with all the coincidences in the plot, until the penny dropped that part of the game seems to be just how many coincidences there could be – to subvert that core piece of plotting advice: no coincidences, no ‘deus ex machina’ .  What a lot of fun she has ignoring those rules.

The novel is set in Leeds; in the 1970s just before the Ripper started his series of murders, but there are unsolved killings non the less, which are echoed in the contemporary period.  Not all of the mysteries are solved by the end of the novel; another rule of detective fiction subverted.  None the less I found the finale satisfying.

As always there are excellent one liners through out and amusing asides.  Brodie is collecting visits to all the Betty’s tea room and ruined abbeys.  What would life be like if everything was run with the warm efficiency of Betty’s?  Would there be cake and scones for all?

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1 Comment

  1. margaret nickels

     /  May 13, 2011

    You have ‘sold ‘it to me : a novel which incorporates 6 degrees of sep. and mentions of ‘Bettys’ ……. Fat Rascals here I come !


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