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Kate Atkinson, acclaimed British novelist, shifted her sights to crime a few novels ago and garnered instant accolades for her work in that genre. When Will There Be Good News? was layered with motive, memory, mystery and well-developed characters in vivid environments as lovingly crafted as the plot. In Started Early, Took My Dog, some of the characters are back and the meticulously drawn people, elements and events are as thick as the puzzle pieces in any literary novel.
This time ex-cop, semi-retired private detective Jackson Brodie is vagabonding around the countryside in a used Saab, having been grifted of the several million a former client inexplicably left to him in her will by a con who married him to get closer to the cash. He’s hunting for the identity of a New Zealand client who was adopted as a toddler and can’t find any evidence of having existed as an infant. And hoping to track the missing “wife” and his bankroll, although with little expectation of success. At the same time that Brodie rescues a small, abused dog from a violent thug, retired cop Tracy Waterhouse rescues an abused kid from a prostitute by paying a thousand pounds cash for her on impulse.
The kid is a 4-year-old girl who settles right into life on the lam as her new guardian tries to clean her up, take care of her and avoid discovery as an impulsive childnapper. The dog is smart, compliant and might be a thoroughbred—it comes with a collar that says its name is “The Ambassador.” The cast of characters rapidly expands forward and back through time as the pursued and the pursuers try to outrun and outfox each other, trailing their lost loves, tragic memories and scores-to-settle after themselves like streamers of semaphore flags.
There are crooked cops, bereaved cops, crimes of passion with revolting aftermaths, an aging actress with Alzheimer’s, a retired conman with answers, missing social workers, cheap hotels, pricey parties and personal ghosts interwoven in the chase. Started Early…is not a thin or minimalist murder mystery. It is rich in detail, complex enough to demand attention—no casual read with myriad interruptions will do it justice–and centered on human hopes and failings more than on the crimes themselves. There are a lot of crimes. The resolution is not predictable or at all neat.
One of the pleasures in this book for me was the version I read. More than a year ago I spied it on a table of new mysteries at an independent bookstore with tall stacks, library ladders and regular shipments of hardbacks from England. I bought it on a whim and tried to keep my face blank when I discovered that it cost more than $50.00. Support for indie bookstores and hesitation made the book improvidently mine. Then I had no time to open it in the scramble for enough freelance work to keep the rest of my books housed indoors along with the people in our family. But my imported copy has every Britishism intact. It was a lot of fun to read, untranslated into American English.
Started Early, Took My Dog is a good mystery but not a “wow” mystery. Reading it nearly straight through helped me to keep the various threads from tangling. I like Kate Atkinson and will read her books again. But, if you get the chance, grab the British version and enjoy the flavor of the language that adds to the strong sense of place Atkinson creates.
Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel Kate Atkinson | Doubleday 2010