Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

High praise goes to Kate Atkinson’s novel, Started Early Took My Dog. It’s the fourth novel by Atkinson to feature PI Jackson Brodie, and in my typical fashion, I am only now just getting to this author. This means I have some catch-up to do because after reading this one, I know I want to read all the earlier novels. I’m not going to write a full review. For that, go to Mostly Fiction.

Instead here’s the novel in brief: the two main characters are “butch old battlexe” Tracy Waterhouse, in her 50s, a retired Detective Superintendent from the West Yorkshire Police Dept  and PI Jackson Brodie. Tracy, bored to tears in retirement, is now Head of Security at a local shopping centre. Tracy, who has never married, becomes mixed up with the fate of a badly neglected child, and this sends her life into a tailspin. She’s also about to run into Jackson Brodie who’s been employed by an adopted girl in New Zealand to find her real parents. Clues lead to Tracy and an old murder case from 1975.

The novel goes back and forth between 1975 Yorkshire “awash with serial killers” and the present, and several threads regarding lost girls (kidnapped, missing, murdered) run throughout this simply marvellous story. This is not primarily a crime novel–although the action is built around several crimes; instead this is a superbly built story of several characters whose lives are shaped by crime. These characters make spilt-second decisions that haunt them for a lifetime, and this leads to crimes or sometimes serious errors in judgment. As the novel slips back and forth between 1975 and the present, we enter a time warp of attitudes. Tough women are either “butch” or “lezzies” and prostitutes ‘had it coming.’ Atkinson shows us that some attitudes have improved while others have just submerged and morphed into new pathologies. A strangely poignant tale with dense characterisation, this is a novel that may convince some readers to dip into a genre they normally avoid.

One of the things I particularly liked about the novel is the way in which the plot explored characters haunted by past experiences or by poor decisions they made. Here’s Tracy looking back over her career:

Tracy had a sudden, unexpected memory of the endless, thankless task of indexing cards during the Ripper investigation. The police had people out taking down registrations of cars in the red-light district, spotting ones that turned up regularly, triple sightings in Bradford, Leeds, and Manchester. Sutcliffe was one of those, of course–interviewed nine times, exonerated. So many mistakes. Tracy was still naive, no idea how many men used prostitutes, thousands from all walks of life. She could hardly believe it. Gambling, drinking, whoring–the three pillars of western civilization.

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30 Comments

Filed under Atkinson Kate, Fiction

30 responses to “Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

  1. pris robichaud

    Just finished the book. Wish Atkinson could write two a year!

  2. After you mentioned it I already bought it too and am looking forward to reading it. I started with Case Histories that I really loved.

  3. As I read it, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage that I hadn’t already read the others, and even though various characters appear who obviously also appeared in early novels, everything was clear.

    After finishing, Started Early Took My Dog, I read the plot summaries of the earlier novels. Wished I’d started with number 1, but I didn’t. Now to play catch-up.

  4. I did like her Behind the scenes at the museum – a fresh funny voice – but I just don’t like to get into series. (The only series I read is the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and that’s only because it’s our family holiday project.

    Is Case histories in this series? I think I have that in my TBR, so maybe I could read that and just have an intro.

  5. Case Histories is the first in the series, followed by:
    One Good Turn
    When Will There be Good News
    Started Early Took My Dog.

  6. pris robichaud

    This is the 4th book with Jackson Brodie, the semi-retired private eye. However, it does not read like a series, you can go without following each book. Her writing is so spot on and so intelligent- nothing like any other writer. I love each of her books. She says she is tired of Jackson now and is writing a different novel. They are all golden.

  7. leroyhunter

    It sounds interesting, and the quote backs that up. Yorkshire in the 70s is fertile literary ground, isn’t it?
    Burn, Peace, now this.

    • Part of the book’s emphasis is on the idea that that place and time (Yorkshire in the 70s) was a unique and nasty place to be–esp.if you were a young policewoman like Tracy. The book shows what can be done with a crime novel–although as I said this is a book in which the focus is the impact of crime on the lives of its various characters. Tracy hasn’t been a direct victim of crime, but she’s seen so much. Too much.

      Like Max, I find crime novels to be a great change of pace.

      • leroyhunter

        I like the “three pillars of western civilisation” line. Reminds me that revenues from “mainstream” porn easily outstrip (no pun) those of Hollywood, while Vegas & Nevada generally have had the highest growth rates in the US consistently over the last 20 years.

        I agree with you both on crime writing, or what I consider the good stuff anyway. There’s an interview with Henning Mankell today in which he says “Society and its contradictions become clear when you write about crime.” I’ve only read one of his books (and didn’t like it) but that’s a nice précis.

        • I, too, read one Mankell and wasn’t crazy about it either. I know several people who rave about his books, though.

          There’s a great quote from Oscar Wilde–can’t recall it exactly but it’s along the lines that if you REALLY want to make money, it’s in the human vices.

          I like that Mankell quote BTW.

  8. Kate Atkinson was in my wish list with Jonathan Coe. I’ll start with the first one and I know other crime fiction fans around me who would like this. So, I’ll break my rule and get it in French translation in order to lend it.

    Btw, what went wrong in Yorkshire in the 1970s? I remember the review Max wrote about David Peace’s book. Incompetent people in all areas (police, justice…) ? Corruption ? Living in a very centralized country, sorry if I ask a silly question, but how things could go on without “London” stepping in?

    PS : “Gambling, drinking, whoring–the three pillars of western civilization” Aren’t they more the three pillars of human civilization?

    • Tracy Waterhouse, the retired policewoman in the book makes reference to the Yorkshire Ripper. But he was not the only serial killer on the loose operating (mainly) in the N. of England. I say mainly as there is some question whether or not he killed other women in other areas.

      References in the book are also made to the murderer known as the Black Panther and also Dr. Harold Shipman–a serial killer who off’d his patients.

      It’s a horrible generalisation to say that Yorkshire at that time was a bad place to be, but I think the lingering memories of that time are mainly oppressive, and it’s not all due to the serial killers. The miners’ strikes in 74 and then again in the 80s were during that time frame, and as the Iron Lady flexed her iron knickers, I think for some people, it was a time of lost innocence in one form or another.

      Philip Hensher’s book (which I loved BTW) The Northern Clemency gets into the idea that the North of England was rocked particularly hard during this time period.

      There’s also the prevailing idea that the North of England gets the short end of the stick when it comes to social programmes etc.

      In Tim Thornton’s very funny novel, The Alternative Hero, he goes into the whole idea of the music scene in the North vs the South.

      I think Tracy’s (or the author’s) three pillars are just sarcastic, but I get the impression that Tracy is so soured on human behaviour, those three pillars are out of her work experience.

      • Thank you very much for all the details, it’s very interesting. I didn’t know there was a North vs South in England too.
        I’ve heard of those strikes in films and it always seemed really hard.

  9. Guy, I see you’re reading Gailly. He was on Laurence Cossé’s list and I’m curious to read your review. I was skeptical when I browsed through one of his novel in my bookstore.

  10. pris robichaud

    Brodie jackson’s beloved sister was murdered, and murderer never caught- suspicion is that it was the ‘Ripper’-suspicion from readers, don’t think Atkinson has given us any clues.

    • I might be wrong but I thought there was one place when Brodie speculated that the perp might have been the ripper.

      I’ve read some criticism about the #1 ladies det. agency targeting the sugary treatment of that region’s social problems. I can’t say as I haven’t read any of them.

  11. pris robichaud

    I agree, Ladies Det. series never lived up to my expectations.

  12. leroyhunter

    BBC have just screened an adaptation of Case Histories – looks like they’re doing all the books.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011whc9

    I didn’t watch as I want to read them first. I keep being tempted by the first one, just haven’t taken the plunge yet.

  13. Thanks for the info. I hadn’t heard of this and I know I’ll want to watch this. Now for the DVD….

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