Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth and latest in Kate Atkinson's series of super smart mysteries featuring Jackson Brodie. Like the other Brodie books, this one involves several disparate stories that more or less come together. Like the other Brodie books and her earlier literary fiction, Atkinson's droll commentary and crackling wit make every page a delight.
There is a theme throughout the books of the series (stemming from the murder of his own teen-aged sister when he was a child) of Jackson trying to rescue lost girls. This book narrows that idea to missing children – children kidnapped, sold, murdered, snatched by estranged parents, aborted, abandoned, or erased from the system.
The title may refer to Atkinson's process of writing this book: She started the story early, with the 1975 murder of a Leeds prostitute; and she brought along dog in the form of an abused little terrier Jackson rescues and sneaks into hotels in his rucksack.
The narrative moves back and forth between the earlier murder and Jackson's present-day efforts to locate the birth parents of his client – a woman adopted when she was a toddler. Running roughly parallel, with occasional intersections, is the story of Tracey Waterhouse, a newly retired Leeds police officer who finds herself on the lam with a four-year-old girl in a fairy costume.
The point of Atkinson's Brodie books is not to follow a linear string of clues to a logical solution to the mystery. Indeed, two of the main storylines in Started Early are left unresolved in the end, which is disconcerting, but hopefully signals a sequel in the works.
These are in no way conventional mysteries. They are – like all great novels – stories about people facing conflict, struggling with relationships, finding their place, and trying to understand life. That they have a few dead bodies thrown in make them "mysteries," but they are no less literature. Started Early, Took My Dog is a gobsmacker of a good book.