Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Jackson Brodie, now semi-retired, returns in Kate Atkinson's latest literary mystery. This is the fourth book featuring Brodie and the only one not yet adapted for the screen by the BBC.

To be honest, it was missing some of the pith and zest of the earlier books. Her books have been (in my opinion) increasing in quality. The third Jackson Brodie novel, When Will There be Good News, was by far my favorite. It was surprisingly Jackson-lite, but featured such fully realized beautifully strung together characters that it didn't matter. Jackson was merely part of the ensemble. This novel more heavily featured Jackson Brodie, but he shared the narrative fairly equally with Tracy, a retired cop, and Tilly an elderly actress. Atkinson strings their stories together through moments of shared experience and strange similarity in their lives. On the same life changing afternoon, Tracy finds herself buying a child from a prostitute she encountered when she was still a police officer, and Jackson takes a dog from an abusive brute of a man. Atkinson uses snatches of poetry, old rhymes and cliches to draw her story's themes to the front. She will repeat several times throughout the story the fact that "no good deed goes unpunished" and also draws one back to the old rhyme "for the want of a nail".
Though these seem to be a significant commentary on how the story will turn out, it actually feels rather anti-climactic by the end. The dog and the child, while changing Tracy and Jackson's course, are incidental to the overall plot. In the mid-seventies Tracy and her beat partner Barry found a prostitute murdered in an apartment. Her four year old child had been locked in there with her for almost three weeks. The murder was pushed to the back burner by Tracy's superiors and never solved.
Jackson is hired by a woman named Hope to find out about her birth parents. She was adopted as a little girl and then taken to New Zealand, never knowing about her past. When it seems as though Hope's adoption never legally took place, Jackson begins an investigation that becomes more dangerous than he anticipated. These two seemingly separate stories intertwine in disturbing ways.
Overall, I was a little disappointed in this novel. There were a few moments that were very strong in terms of their suspense and there are one or two surprising little twists that are elegant in their simplicity. It still wasn't as strong as the earlier Jackson Brodie novels. The character of Tilly was interesting and intriguing, but it felt like she was in the wrong novel. She didn't quite belong and it was a bit of stretch to make her connect to the overall story in the end. The ending wasn't completely satisfying. There were still a few unanswered questions that seemed like they were going to be highly significant, but fade out into nothing.
I'm an Atkinson junkie, I actually just picked up one of her earlier novels Emotionally Weird last week, but I did find this novel to be a little less satisfying. It's still worth the read for a Jackson Brodie fix, but not a luminous or as neatly plotted as her previous work. I still greatly admire her style and am not ashamed to say that she is a major inspiration to me as a young writer dancing around the edges of the crime genre. I hope she comes back to Jackson Brodie (and brings back Louise!) in a future book. This isn't  the way I want him to go out. I think there is a better ending for Brodie and I hope it's on its way soon.

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