Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson

When one of the books you have been most looking forward to all year pops through my letter box my mind seems to split in two. The first half wants to drop whatever it is I am already reading and start it that second. The second half holds off with a mixture of wanting to wait because once I have read it its read and also the fear that it might not be as good as the others. I always find the latter interesting as I don’t tend to be a pessimistic person. These debates went on when ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ (which might be one of my favourite book titles of the year) by Kate Atkinson arrived, in the end however I just caved in.

‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is the fourth in what has become a series of ‘literary crime’ novels, as they have been pigeon-holed by publishers/bookshops not by me, featuring Jackson Brodie. Yet if you are now worrying ‘oh I haven’t read the other three’ fear not because what is brilliant about this set of books is that they all stand alone and (as a few of my family members have – not naming any names) you could read them in any order. But let’s get onto what ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is all about shall we?

To try and encapsulate the story or plot of ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is actually quite difficult. It’s quite a complex plot, though not so complex you have no enjoyment in it in fact quite the opposite, told over two periods in time and through several different view points in each. As the main story, told in the present day, opens we are in Yorkshire where Jackson Brodie has come out of ‘semi retirement’ as a private investigator to look into the past of Hope McMaster who was adopted and taken to New Zealand. We also have Matilda ‘Tilly’ Squires an aging and slightly forgotten actress in the Yorkshire drama ‘Collier’ who is suffering from the start of dementia. We also have Tracy Waterhouse a former Sergeant for the West Yorkshire Police and now Head of Security in the Merrion Shopping Centre  who is completely unaware that she is about to do something that will change her life forever.

The second interweaving back story from mid 1970’s when Yorkshire was in the grip of several serial killers. This is where we meet a much younger Tracy and her colleagues investigating the murder of a prostitute and her son who vanishes from orphanage to orphanage as if someone wants him not to be found. How does all this weave together and what does it have to do with the aforementioned Tilly and Jackson? Well you would have to read the book to find out and you really should because the way Atkinson does it is not only incredibly clever (without leaving the reader completely lost) it’s also very readable.

The more I read of Atkinson’s work and in particular this series, the more of a genius I think she is. Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvellous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read. If you are reading them in order and for Jackson Brodie (as my Gran does) then he does soften a little in this one and all because of the most surprising new sidekick.

I also think ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ has learnt from its excellent predecessors. It has the darkness of ‘Case Histories’, the humour – though less farcical and more contained – of ‘One Good Turn’ and the brilliant complexities of the coincidental plotting in ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ whilst also like its predecessors being nothing like any that have gone before it. I can’t wait for the next one!

A book that will: show you why crime fiction can be so good and why its so annoying that some of it doesn’t get a mention in the big prize long lists. 10/10

I don’t think I can suggest any perfect prose partners for this other than the earlier books in the series. I could suggest some of the Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill crime novels because Hannah makes the impossible and complex possible, and Hill interweaves crime with great social awareness and themes, yet though I love them dearly Atkinson seems to interweave the two. If you haven’t read these then you really must. If you have read this and/or its predecessors what did you think? Which other novels by Atkinson have you tried? I really must give ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ a whirl.


Filed under Books of 2010, Kate Atkinson, Review, Transworld Publishing

92 responses to “Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson

  1. Deb

    I loved, loved, loved the first three Jackson Brodie books and I can’t wait to read this one.

    I have to disagree with you with one thing, Simon, and that is I really think for readers who haven’t read any of these books yet, it is much better to read them in order. The character of Brodie really grows and develops in the books and I believe the reading experience is richer for reading them in the order they were published.

    • I personally would read them in the right order I agree with that Deb, I just meant from having several family embers read them in completely the wrong way they havent found it a hinderance, which I think is a credit to Atkinson that it can work both ways.

  2. I am so excited to read this one! I’ve loved the other three Jackson Brodie books (One Good Turn remains my favourite) and have found that reading them out of order in no way impaired my enjoyment of the series or the character development.

    • I have enjoyed them all too Claire. I have to say though I do have a particular love for the last two. In part it is because they are the darkest and more complex and also because of the secondary characters being so much more life like.

  3. I am a huge Kate Atkinson fan and I didn’t even know this book was coming out – can’t wait to read it!

  4. novelinsights

    I read Behind the Scenes when I was a teenager and bawled my eyes out, but strangely cannot remember what happened now except that it had chapter structure which meant flipping in between two stories / time periods. I really enjoyed ‘One Good Turn’ so I should really read some more Atkinson…

    • Oh thats a reaction. I know that its a book which many people have as a favourite. I started it once and it didnt work for me, I can’t remember why. I will have to reopen it and find out!

  5. I’m not actually able to order a copy of this novel yet and promised myself that I wouldn’t look at any reviews of it, until it’d read the book myself. Well that didn’t last long! Although I’m happy that at least ‘Started Early, Took my Dog’ has got a good reaction.

    Previously, I’ve read ‘Emotionally Weird’, ‘One Good Turn’, ‘When will there be good news?’, ‘Human Croquet’ and ‘Case Histories’. I love Kate Atkinson’s novels and can’t wait to read her new one.

    • I must read ‘Emotionally Weird’ I have heard its very very good. I also want to read her short stories as in my head they will be along the dark lines of Daphne Du Mauriers best.

  6. OMG I have to read this. (I’m starting to sound like a broken record this morning, as I’ve read so many good reviews today.) I loved Case Histories, as it is a crime novel that stands out above 98% of the rest, because it is literary, not just the typical trash. This woman is brilliant and really needs to get herself on some prize lists.

  7. Baba

    “Case Histories” was the first Atkinson book I ever read and I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading this one. Adding this to my “Savidge Suggestions” book list.

  8. winstonsdad

    I like the title simon too ,it would catch my eye in the shop ,not 100% sure it sounds like a book for me thou ,like occasional crime book thou so who knows ,agree with the prize thing in a way ,I did think Peter temple would have made booker longlist even more so after winning the miles franklin earlier this year ,same with sci fi ,but same could be said of lit crime not making theksten prize list ,all the best stu

    • The cover is gorgeous too and very tactile, naturally though when reading it here there and everywhere I take the dust jacket off.

      I don’t know why crime books, especially when they cross over in this way. I am desperate to read Peter Temples book just to see hat the fuss is about, and the fact I am in a real mood for crime at the moment – still. It doesnt seem to be shifting.

  9. Nicola Smith

    I loved this one (as I have loved all the Jackson Brodie books). I can’t wait to see what they do with it for the planned TV series, starring the lovely Jason Isaacs as Jackson.

    Simon, I would love to know your thoughts about the end (which I’m not going to post about here, don’t worry). But there’s something that puzzled me and I can’t decide if I missed something as I went along, or if it’s leading us into a new story.

    • Hmmm the TV series, I am really not sure about it. Mind you I will reserve judgement until I have at least watched two episodes.

      Email me about the end. I think I know what you mean!

      • Nicola Smith

        I did email you about this – did you get it?

      • I did Nicola and can only apologise I havent answered sooner because of the prize submissions, will do after the long weekend. Am on an internet ban from the other half this weekend and have the rest of submissions to get through.

      • Nicola Smith

        No problem, was just checking you got it.

      • Kathy

        Hi, I have just finished reading the wonderful ‘Started Early…’ and have been trawling the net for some blogs on the ending and stumbled across this feed. Have you both been discussing the ending to ‘Started Early…’ too? I too felt like I had missed soemthing because the Kelly Cross story wasn’t resolved – or was it and I missed it? I absolutely loved the book and have read all 4 Brodie ones now. I am looking forward to reading human Croquet – a great find in a charity shop!

      • Human Croquet is brilliant Kathy, I hope you went and bought it. I havent responded on here for ages (again) so apologies. I think all will be revealed further in the next book, I think we are meant to want to read on.

    • Nicola Smith

      The tum te tum message at the end should have gone here!

  10. This one is on my list. Thanks for the refreshing Monday morning positivity.

  11. Yes, Simon, you really must give Behind the Scenes at the Museum a whirl – I insist! It’s one of my favourite books.

  12. I am definitely going to read this one – I saw it yesterday and nearly took the plunge – your review convinces me. BTSatTM was my introduction to her and I remember it many years on as a potential classic. Great article – thanks for sharing

    • A potential classic, wow! I love this series Tom, every single one has been a hit with me and I have passed them on to many a person I know who has loved which ever one I have given them and in most cases read the rest.

  13. Loretta

    I am sooo jealous. I just don’t think I can wait until March for this new Kate Atkinson book.

  14. Bet

    I have read all 3 previous Jackson Brodie novels and loved them. They are so cleverly told and simply un-put-downable. I am so sad to have wait til the end of March (or later, depending on when my library gets it) to read this one. I order from the Book Depository regularly, but I can’t order everything!

  15. Caroline

    Hi. Have just finished Kate Atkinson’s latest. Loved it but also struggled with ending. Would be really grateful for any clarification you could offer! Thanks.

    • I think we are supposed to be left wanting more Caroline (apols this reply is so late), its a frustrating hint at another story… but also a good one, look how its got people talking.

  16. Hi, Help!! I’ve just finished Started Early, Took my Dog and as usual, with all Kate’s books I enjoyed it immensely. One BIG question please – who was Courtney’s mother? It’s been driving me mad and I just can’t figure it out. Best wishes Wendy

    • I think thats going to be revealed in the sequel. Oddly I couldnt work out where the two strands met when I finished the book and its all these comments, which I have been too long in coming back to sorry, that made me want to re-read the novel, which I will have to do before the next one comes out.

  17. Jan Crowther

    Me too! Who was it?

  18. Amy Woollard

    Me too…I am also confused about the child at the beginning – the one that was kidnapped – love to know your thoughts.

    Another book recommendation – not a thriller – An American Wife – A gentle and lovely read.

    Waiting by my email for your thoughts on the ending…….

    • Who is An American Wife by Amy? It’s only taken me a year an ahalf to respond, so understandable if you don’t want to tell me, oops.

      • amy woollard

        An American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld – really lovely read.
        I was a total late comer to the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – as I had seen the original film – loved all three books. Ended up reading the last one mostly standing up until 3am to stop me falling asleep..I just had to know ‘who dunnit”…

      • Thanks Amy, I was wondering if maybe I should do a bit re-readalong of this book on the blog and see if maybe as a group read we can work it all out?

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  20. purdi

    I’ve read all of her books, and I’ve just started reading this new one. The best of all,for me, even though I love the Brodie novels is Human Croquet. The writing is almost magical. It was beautifully written and a great story.

  21. Jemma7

    I’m wondering about the ending, are there a couple of questions left unanswered or did I miss something?

  22. VickyGee

    I’m relieved to read that others also have questions about the ending i.e. the kidnapping in Germany and (thanks for reminding me, Wendy!) and who was Courtney’s mother. Short of re-reading it again – way too much other good stuff around to read to do that – I’d really appreciate an email to enlighten me.

  23. jane

    OK I know the birthmark like Africa is the clue but please, who is Courtney’s mum?

  24. Karen Heberle

    Who is Courtney? I looked back through the book to try to find the place where Jackson was talking about travelling all over the world looking for missing children, talked about distinguishing features birthmarks etc. At that time he mentioned a partuar child he found & wondered if what had happened to thier sibling? Does this tie in at all with Courtney’s identity, is this the clue I missed?

    • I wonder if this may actually be the mystery at the heart of the next book. I have just been looking to see when it is out and there is no release date this year – grrrr. I wonder if Kate is leaving us with lots of unanswered possibilities for books that go back and forward in Brodies career.

  25. Marion Bates

    Do you remember when Jackson Brodie is referring to a South African man called Mitch who hunts for missing children, he has a missing child on his file with a birthmark of Africa which Courtney also has. Therefore there is no mother for Courtney, making it ok for Tracy to get away with it I suppose. Perhaps it will be in a sequel.
    I rushed the ending though and got a bit confused with who murdered Carol Braithwaite it in the end,it seemed as thought he wrong man got arrested? Or am I being thick? Can anyone enlighten me?

    • I think I need to re-read this book, you have raised some other questions I had completely forgotten about – oops.

    • H watkins

      Totally agree, have re-read the ending over and over! Lomax killed Carol and was Nicola’s father, Ray went to get the girl out of the flat. So why did Barry arrest Ray for Carols murder and tell Ray’s wife that he had fathered Carol’s daughter? I am very confused….!!

      • liadhan

        Barry believed that it was Strickland who’d killed Carol Braithwaite. He ferried Strickland to Lovell St and then to the Winfields’ with the girl, and he assumed it was Strickland who’d done the killing.

  26. vera

    I think there must be a sequel in the pipeline. Just at the end, when Tracy and Courtney have become Imogen and Lucy and are in France, Tracy’s phone ring, but nobody knows her number. So she switches the phone off. I think there’ll be more about that in the next book.

    I think Courtney’s really a boy and is the missing brother of the girl Jennifer, who Brodie rescues in Munich towards the start of the book. I’ll examine the gender-bender thing a couple of paras further on.

    Don’t know why Courtney’s with Kelly, though. But that’s something we’ll learn in the sequel — I hope. I suspect Courtney hasn’t been with Kelly long, as she hasn’t been abused by her, and also someone’s plaited her hair. I think Kelly’s on the run from people who are trying to return Courtney to his/her father when Tracy meets her in the Merrion Centre. I think that’s possibly why Kelly is murdered.

    the gender thing is pretty odd. Perhaps — and this might seem weird — Tracy notices that the ‘androgynous’ girl is actually a boy, and decides just to go along with the fiction. Courtney’s been disguised as a girl (but with a unisex first name) in order to throw her pursuers off her trail. Kate Atkinson seems to be suggesting that when she says something about the fact that the kid has a plait and is all tricked out in pink are the only evidence that she’s a girl.

    Tracy, in her mind, refers to Courtney a lot as ‘kid’.

    I use the word

  27. Vesna McMaster

    Nah, don’t be daft. Tracy gives the girl a bath, you’d certainly notice. The Mitch connection, sure. I think Coutney’s got a past we simply don’t know about. Look forward to reading about it!

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  29. Ros

    Vera, I agree with you. It would be typical of Kate Atkinson to start introducing this twist.

    However, I have a feeling that the birthmark has featured in one of her previous novels….short of sitting down and reading them all again can anyone help?

  30. Jannette Little

    Just finished Kate Atkinson’s Started early, took my dog, will someone please tell me Who did Courtney belong to, who killed Kelly cross and what the hell had tilly got to do with the child?

  31. Shelley

    The German ‘kidnap’ was Jackson working with another man to retrieve a child who had been taken out of the country by her father, along with her brother. The brother was being kept somewhere else, so Jackson could only get the girl. He describes her ethnic origin as being half egyptian, and comments that his associate refers to her as the ‘paki’ kid. I don’t think that this is anything to do with Courtney- I may be wrong but I think I remember Courtney was described as blonde somewhere in the book.

    I think we’ll get a sequel… please??!!

  32. Barb

    I’m just glad that I’m not the only one who wonders who Courtney’s mother is. Kelly Cross’s unfinished statement “but she’s not..” is still a mystery…. but the fact that she used ‘she’ leads me to believe that Courtney is a definitely a girl..but that Kelly was trying to say that she wasn’t her mother.

  33. Jo moffat

    First Kate Atkinson book that i’ve read and looovvveeed it! Was very confused at the end re birthmark and kicked myself for not paying attention more! I’m going to give the book to my sister and tell her to pay attention to certain parts! I don’t even know who killed who! Until I looked at this I dint realise there was more books so getting onto amazon now!

    • She is a great author isnt she Jo? I am assuming in the time (apologies I didnt realise so many people had left comments until someone left a new one today, sorry) that you left this comment you have read some more.

  34. Sheila Cunningham

    Have just finished ‘Started Early . . . ‘ Couldn’t put it down. Really good to know I’m not the only person concerned about the question of who Courtney’s mum was. I think we’re not supposed to know:we’ll find out in a sequel, I think.

    I like being able to picture Jackson Brodie as Jason Isaacs. How gorgeous is he??


    • Jenny

      I HATE it when authors leave important questions hanging so that they can sell a sequel. I won’t be reading any more by this author.

      • Blimey, it annoyed you that much and put your off to that extent. Thats a real shame, but in doing these open endings I guess an author could leave themselves open to that. Susan Hill almost did it to me in the second of her crime series.

    • The TV show was great wasnt it Sheila? I was really impressed with what they did and cannot wait for more. Though I can’t see that happening until she has written the next and we have three more adaptations.

  35. Harry

    my question is this: if Lomax killed Braithwaite and Strickland picked up the girl – why didn’t Strickland see the boy when he picked up Nicola??? We’re being told that Lomax forgot to tell Strickland about the boy but surely Strickland would’ve seen the boy when he entered the flat? He tells Lomax that the woman was definitely dead when he picked up the girl. Also when Michael tells his experience in the end he wakes up and Nicola is already missing. Wouldn’t he have woken up when Strickland came in to pick her? or was he simply in a different room and Strickland didn’t check on him? is that the answer? I got really confused about this.

  36. I just read this and loved loved loved it! I never normally go for books like this, only did cos I live in Leeds. I was confused by the ending though, who is Louise and who had the Africa birthmark? Help please?

    • Louise is the woman Jackson Brodie is attracted to – she’s mentioned early in the book (he had given her a dog and disappeared) and is featured in the previous book. The child Courtney has the Africa birthmark (Tracy noted it) but have no idea why or from where Brodie remembers it …

      • Sarah a big, big thank you for commenting on this one today as you drew my attention to the fact that I hadn’t responded to so many comments, I didnt realise how popular this post was. I am thinking a re-read by me and a ‘redux’ post is a good idea.

        Thanks again.

    • As Sarah says Louise is from the earlier books (hooray I can answer a question) so thats that tie. I don’t think we are meant to have all the answers to this one.

  37. Konny K

    I’m with Jenny – the sequel might answer these questions and more, but will probably need another sequel to the sequel which will probably lead to a sequel et al, ad nausium.

    • Hahahahaha thats just made me laugh and laugh. It might be that in every book we are left on a cliff hanger, but I love this series so I wouldn’t mind. I just wish there wasnt such a wait in between them.

  38. i also need to know the background of courtney, i re-read twice and still could not figure out. i also thought that ‘she ‘ was a boy, and had something to do with jennifer’s brother.
    why did not michael recognize lomax when he came into the apt to ‘investigate ‘ carol’s muder

    • Oh I was going to re-read the book, is that a bad idea? Will I end up in the same position all over again? Maybe if we all re-read it together we could find the root of it all?

  39. if there is going to be a sequel she better hurry up

  40. saraby

    Do we even know that the kid’s name is Courtney? Kelly was on the phone at the time she was overheard (by mixed-up Tilly) to speak to a Courtney–who could be her real daughter, on the phone. Kelly might have started to say “She’s not…Courtney”. (?)

  41. She’s such a wonderful writer! I just finished the novel and reached this post googling “Courtney started early took my dog” because I’m utterly fascinated by that child. And, if you liked her too, you’ll love Behind the Scenes and Life After Life 😉

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