Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Doubleday Canada 2010.
I took a break from my regularly scheduled reading list, the Giller and Governor General Award 2010 shortlists, to catch up on Kate Atkinson’s latest Jackson Brody novel. What a pleasure. Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite writers, and Started Early reconfirmed my high opinion of her oeuvre. Started Early is another fine outing for Brody.
The Jackson Brody series begins with Case Histories, and continues with One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News. In this fourth outing, retired cop-turned- private investigator Brody has taken on what would seem to be a simple enough assignment. A woman in New Zealand, who was adopted as a baby in England, has asked him to track down her birth parents. However, it soon becomes apparent that this was no ordinary adoption and there are forces who wish the truth to remain buried.
At the centre of this intricately plotted novel is Tracy, a retired cop now working as security management at a local mall. Her life takes an abrupt and dramatic change of course one day when she observes a mother, a woman known to her through police investigations, screaming at the youngster she has in tow. In a spontaneous gesture, Tracy chases after the pair and offers the mother an envelope of cash for the child. The kiddy’s mom is only too happy to accept. With her newly-purchased daughter, Tracy is soon on the run, hiding out from both possible legal repercussions and from an assortment of unknown pursuers who are hot on her trail.
The focus of the narrative shifts from one protagonist to another, and from the present to events that took place decades before, as Atkinson slowly brings divergent threads together. By the final chapter, all is revealed and loose ends are neatly tidied up.
Although the story is intriguing, it is Atkinson’s wit and dry observations that make the book such satisfying reading. When Tracy is taking stock of her situation, it is observed:
The future was suddenly a place that you might want to be, rather than a place where you were going to have to slog it out with tedium on a day-by-day basis. A really, really terrifying place that you might want to be.
Of Jackson’s relationship with Julia, his one-time lover:
Any time he spent with Julia always degenerated in the end into a mixture of comforting familiarity and irritable argument. Rather like marriage but without the divorce. Or the wedding for that matter.
Atkinson is also skilled at character development. Jackson, Tracy, Barry, bit player Tilla, even Jackson’s newly-rescued dog, all come alive. In the closing lines of the book, Atkinson sets up an introduction to the next Brody novel. I’m looking forward to it already.