three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-Started Early Took My Dog

The Story: Rambling around his native Yorkshire, hired to find an adopted woman's biological parents, Jackson Brodie witnesses a man beating a dog and soon finds himself the new owner of a little terrier. Simultaneously, Tracy Waterhouse, a lonely retired cop who now works in mall security, sees a prostitute, Kelly Cross, abusing a small girl. On impulse, she pays Kelly and walks away with the child--but not before Tilly, an elderly actress growing increasingly senile, observes the exchange. Days later, Kelly is murdered. Shifting points of view and moving backward in time to the mid-1970s, when another prostitute was murdered, Started Early, Took My Dog ties together the fates of these disparate characters and others, their private dramas, and their long-buried crimes and secrets.
Reagan Arthur Books. 384 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316066730

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[P]arts of Started Early, Took My Dog are bitterly bleak, world-weary and almost elegiac in tone, conscious of approaching ends as well as mysterious beginnings. ... [W]e follow [the characters'] digressive, meandering voices avidly as they circle around their own particular loves and losses, all knitted together with Atkinson's extraordinary combination of wit, plain-speaking, tenderness and control." Justine Jordan

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Started Early, Took My Dog--with a wonderful title from Emily Dickinson, summoning a poem that is as artfully enshrouded as this novel--is also jampacked with echoes, parallels, doppelgängers, sneaky omissions and authorial attempts to mislead. For Ms. Atkinson this is business as usual and often a source of final-act revelatory glee. But it doesn't coalesce as neatly as this series's earlier installments have." Janet Maslin

Salon.com 4 of 5 Stars
"The terror of parenthood haunts this novel far more pervasively than any murderer. The plot is (blessedly) less Byzantine this time around, but the bottom notes in the emotional register of Started Early, Took My Dog are deeper than those of the preceding three novels." Laura Miller

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"There are crimes in this book ... but Atkinson is just as concerned with crimes of the heart, and with the unexpected consequences of good intentions. She layers plots and time periods with consummate skill, creating novels that work like elegant jazz improvisations, taking us onto amazing yet believable paths that eventually weave together into an even more astonishing result." Colette Bancroft

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is awash with metafictional asides and doppelgängers--there's even a second private detective called Jackson tailing Brodie--and Tilly's collapsing sanity makes this blurring between ‘fiction' and ‘reality' irritating. [But] Atkinson's detective novels capture the strangeness of modern times, and our supposedly atomised lives, with spiky wit, emotional intelligence and consummate cleverness." Amanda Craig

Telegraph (UK) 2.5 of 5 Stars
"There is such an elegant symmetry to the narrative that it is disappointing to report that the novel as a whole never catches fire. ... There is too much plotting, not enough of the kind of close human observation at which [Atkinson] excels." David Robson

Critical Summary

In the fourth of her Jackson Brodie series, Atkinson once again proves her skill at transcending genres: not only is Started Early, Took My Dog a compelling crime novel, but it is also literary in the best sense. The work is bleaker and more melancholy, introspective, and metafictional than previous installments, but no less compelling. About dysfunctional relationships, love, and parent-child bonds, the novel excels in its depiction of individual struggles, passions, and choices. Only the Telegraph felt that the novel bogged down in tedious asides and flashbacks, and the Salon critic wondered whether Jackson Brodie's adventures would become too contrived in future books. But until that happens, Atkinson provides another worthy and compelling look inside modern-day culture.