Saturday, July 16, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog

Jackson Brodie is still at it.  By Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson’s fourth Jackson Brodie novel, Brodie considers himself to be, at the least, a semi-retired detective, but he is still out there searching for the truth.  The big change in Brodie’s routine today is how he combines his personal search for the woman who defrauded him of most of his substantial inheritance with whatever case he might be working at the time.

A lucky convergence of circumstances finds Brodie in Leeds, his hometown, where he is hoping to get a lead on his ex-companion’s whereabouts while, at the same time, he is searching for the natural parents of a young woman who contacted him from Australia asking for his help.  Jackson Brodie, we learn, has two soft spots: children and dogs; both play prominent roles in Started Early, Took My Dog.

Atkinson has written another multi-layered mystery, one that opens like an onion until the truth is finally revealed.  She uses multiple flashbacks to 1975, the year that Hope McMasters, Brodie’s Australian client, was adopted and moved from Leeds to her new home.  What Brodie learns about the horrible 1975 death of a Leeds prostitute and the child who survived alone with her dead body for three weeks, has him certain that he is on the right track.  That, the more he digs, the more serious the personal threats to him become, ensures that Brodie will keep pulling at threads until the mystery reveals itself to him.

Started Early, Took My Dog is full of memorable characters, not the least, being  a newly expanded version of Jackson Brodie, himself.  Brodie seems ready to admit to himself that his problems center almost entirely on just two things: his abuse of alcohol and an inability to judge a woman’s true character.  His newly found self-awareness is gratifying to see.  Playing a central role in Brodie’s investigation is Tracy Waterhouse, a retired police detective currently making her living as a Leeds mall cop.  Tracy takes pride in the security service she supervises for the mall, but surprises herself one day by giving in to an impulse that will completely change who she is.  Perhaps the most affecting character in the novel is Tilly, an aging movie actress who is suffering from dementia to the degree that she is beginning to confuse her television role with real life.  Atkinson does a remarkable job of portraying Tilly’s world through the woman’s eyes.

Kate Atkinson’s novels are complicated and, as often as not, they are remembered and lauded as much for their style as for their storyline.  That is likely to be the case with Started Early, Took My Dog, as well.  Its plot is not particularly unusual or startling in resolution, but it is a very fine character study structured in a way guaranteed to keep the reader turning its pages to the end.

Rated at: 4.0

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