Review of “Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson

This is the fourth novel featuring Jackson Brodie, a 50-year-old semi-retired private investigator who conjures up Kojak, for those readers old enough to remember him. [Kojak was an American television series airing from 1973 to 1978 starring Telly Savalas as Kojak, an older, attractive, charming detective – seemingly bumbling and incompetent, but although slow to see the light, eventually solving crimes because of his stubborn tenacity and willingness to bend the rules.]

This book is replete with plot conventions readers of Atkinson have come to admire and expect: stream of consciousness narration by a bevy of eventually interconnected characters; bemused and amusing contemplation of life’s quirkiness; a tribute to the ineluctable hand of fate determined, ironically, by accident and coincidence; myriad parallel plot themes mirroring one another as they crisscross through the story; and characters that serve as Greek choruses, drawing all the disparate themes together and anchoring them to a common ground.

The story begins with an abandoned child in 1975 found by two members of the police, including a female cop, Tracy Waterhouse, looking into a murder. This story alternates with the present day, and Jackson Brodie’s search for the birth parents of an adopted woman from New Zealand. We also follow what has happened to Tracy, who is now, like Jackson, also fifty, and like Jackson, searching for the meaning of her life. Jackson calls himself “an old dog looking for a new kennel.” Instead, he gets a new dog.

In the course of the story, we also revisit characters from previous books whose lives still intersect with Brodie in new ways. There are a great many characters and differing points of view, but because they are all interrelated, the story is not at all hard to follow.

Some of the mirrored themes in this story include:

Kids given no names
Kids given false names
Kids told to take other names
Kids whose parentage is unknown
Kids rescued from abuse
Kids who bring out caring and protectiveness in adults

Dogs with unsatisfactory names
Dogs whose ownership is unknown
Dogs rescued from abuse
Dogs who bring out caring and protectiveness in adults

Women who can’t have kids
Women who aborted kids
Women who want kids
Women who steal kids

Missing kids
Missing siblings
Kids who don’t know they have siblings
Missing parents
Missing minds

Jackson Brodie (Jackson B.) hired by a woman to find her family
Brian Jackson (B. Jackson) hired by a man to find the same family

Greek Choruses:

Tilly losing her mind
Courtney waving her wand

Favorite passage:

“Fiction had never been Jackson’s thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale.”

Evaluation: This is my least favorite of the four Brodie novels, but that doesn’t by any means indicate that I didn’t like it. Atkinson is a wonderful writer.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2011

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25 Responses to Review of “Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson

  1. Marg says:

    I have really enjoyed the Jackson Brodie novels. Like you this is probably my least favourite, but it’s still a very good book. Apparently they have been made into a TV series in the UK but I have no idea if we are ever going to see it on our TVs here in Australia.

  2. Teresa says:

    This isn’t my favorite Brodie; that would still be Case Histories, but I liked it a little better than One Good Turn. (Alas, One Good Turn was ruined for me by a poor audiobook narrator.) Tracy Waterhouse’s story was especially compelling and left me with a satisfying number of questions.

    Have you read any of her other books? I love her crime fiction, but I think her others are even better.

  3. Barbara says:

    Love your list of mirrored themes, so familiar from mystery novels and literary fiction. I also love the title of this one.

    As for Kojak, all I remember is the bald head and his lollipop. 😀

  4. I had an issue with the one Jackson Brodie novel I read (When Will There be Good News), mostly due to what I saw as poor character development, but I am obviously in the minority as this seems to be a very popular series. I am still undecided as to whether I will give Brodie another shot!

  5. This looks really good though I’m sad that it didnt quite ,easier up to the other books in the set. I feel like that happens fairly fluently even with series that I like.

  6. Margot says:

    I like the way you did the lists in this review. I “get it” in an easy to read manner. Thanks. I’ll keep an eye out for the Masterpiece Theatre shows.

  7. Staci says:

    Well, evev though this wasn’t your favorite the high rating let’s me know this is one I would enjoy! I know I have one of her books but I can’t remember which one right now!

  8. ds says:

    What about the lollipop,? 😉
    Atkinson is a wonderful writer; I need to catch up with Mr. Brodie. Thanks for the great review.

  9. I own about 4 books by this author and haven’t read any. I’m pathetic. I love your style when you write your reviews. Personality++++

  10. oh, I remember Kojak!
    I have read nothing by this author and really need to fix that!

  11. Steph says:

    This sounds like a series I’d enjoy. I love the way you explored mirrored themes, and the Greek choruses are awesome. 🙂

  12. Aarti says:

    I do not know Kojak or this mystery series and I feel like I am lacking in culture now because of it. I love the way you set up this review. On a minor note, I think it’s interesting that there is no dog on the cover picture.

  13. Tiina says:

    Ok, that quote sold the book to me! “Occationally a whale.” LOL 🙂

    I have only read Not the End of the World by Atkinson. I loved that collection to pieces & have had trouble getting into any of her other books since, but now I just have to try this series. Onto the TBR list it goes!

  14. Alyce says:

    It’s good to know that I shouldn’t start with this one. 🙂

  15. Jenners says:

    I recently finished the second Jackson Brodie novel and it reminded me why I love this author. What happens with the plot is almost secondary to enjoying all the different viewpoints of all the different characters. I’m onto book three at some point and then this one. I like to space them out.

  16. Hmmm, I like the quote you selected, but I’m not sure this book is for me. Since it’s the fourth (and you and several commenters have said it’s not your fave “Jackson Brodie”), I’d likely start with the first … at some point.

  17. roym says:

    im afraid i was very disappointed by this one. absolutely loved case histories, but i feel the series is on a downward trend.

    I cant help but feel that the supporting characters are becoming caricatures now, i.e all of the leeds police officers, perhaps even tracey. Also what was the point of tilly? seemed like a half developed character that was shoehorned into this story.

    my other gripe was with the plotting. case histories genuinely left you wondering what was going to happen, but started early was totally linear, and frankly the brian jackson thing was a preposterous coincidence too far.

    it seemed the tv show was a success, so i guess Kate Atkinson will feel compelled to write more stories to fulfil that particular demand. sadly that will end up these books descending into genre box ticking in future. This will be the last Jackson Broadie novel i pick up. Hopefully Kate Atkinson will return to regular fiction soon

  18. Ti says:

    A little, unknown fact about me…

    Telly was actually a distant relative. Sort of. He was my aunt’s uncle.

    I know Atkinson is very popular but her writing leaves me wanting more. I never feel quite satisfied when I finish one of her books.

  19. Steph says:

    I really enjoy Atkinson’s non-mystery fiction, so I have no idea why I haven’t been able to get into this series! I found Case Histories sooooo slow and unengaging that I never considered continuing with it. But now that I’ve read almost all of Atkinson’s other fiction and this seems to be her genre of choice these days, I’m having second thoughts and am thinking I might need to take Brodie on a second date…

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    Thanks for reminding me of yet another series I want to read!

  21. i just finished my first jackson brodie series (when will there be good news) on audio after hearing about kate atkinson around the blogs. i didn’t realize that it was a series and was a bit in the dark about some of jackson’s backstory but it was still a good listen. nicely done with the theme work! very impressive.

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