Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Started Early, Took My Dog

Summary: Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished. -- Reagan Arthur

A few years ago, my book club read the first novel in the Jackson Brodie series called CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson. I absolutely loved it and was pleasantly surprised by not only the mystery, but the literary quality of the book as well. I read the second book in the series ONE GOOD TURN and was still really impressed, but for some odd reason, I never got around to reading the third book WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? So when Kathy and I were debating about what book we wanted to read for the first Reagan Arthur Books Challenge read-along, I knew my vote was for the fourth book in the series STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG.

I absolutely adored STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG. In fact, I have been kicking myself for not reading the third book in the series prior to this one -- I guess I'll just have to go back now. This novel reminded me of how much I adore Jackson Brodie and I do love his character's complexity (as well as all of his flaws!) The mystery was also an interesting one that kept me guessing; however, it's Ms. Atkinson's writing that really made this book outstanding in my opinion.

Kate Atkinson is just a genius! I was continually blown away by all of the things she managed to do in this novel. I'm not going to even touch all of them in this review, but trust me when I say that you need to read her Jackson Brodie books. STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG is a mystery, but I have to say that I would probably classify it first as literary fiction. The writing is, of course, spectacular; and it's a treat just to see the all of the amazing ways that Ms. Atkinson tied the story together -- from the flashbacks, to the mystery, to the satire, to how she used secondary characters, to the recurring themes, to how she juxtaposed the various characters' actions, to the social commentary, etc. I truly felt as if everything about this book was spectacular and it all worked so well!

Rather than just do some generic gushing, I thought I'd mention a few specifics about this novel that made it extra-special to me. One thing I appreciated was how Ms. Atkinson was able to juxtapose so many of the relationships in this novel. For example, I thought it was cute how she showed the similarities between Tracy and Courtney's new relationships with the one between Jackson and his new dog, The Ambassador. In addition, I liked how she contrasted the present day situation with Courtney's new life with Hope's fresh start thirty-odd years ago. Not only was I impressed with the various ways that these stories in this book related to each other, but I thought the ties demonstrated a great deal about the consistency of human nature.

Another element of STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG that I enjoyed was how the story went back and forth between the present day investigation and the crime that occurred over thirty years ago. I thought the transitions were very good and they almost jolted me (in a good way) some of the time. There was a great deal of social commentary on the structure (both formal and informal) of the police squad as well as women's roles in the force. I also enjoyed some of the references to past real-life crimes.

During the flashbacks, much of the historical information served as background to the crime and filled in some clues to the characters' present day behavior. However, I loved how much I was able to glean about some of the personal lives of the secondary characters. As a reader, I thought it was wonderful to learn about so many of the characters --to actually learn about their flaws as well as their vulnerabilities. I also thought that the use of these flashbacks reinforced a major theme of the story -- how much our past tends to influence our future.

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG is an ideal book club pick. While it is a mystery (and, for that reason, not your typical book club book), it's also a very literary novel (which does make it perfect for discussion!) There is an excellent reading guide available with some very thought-provoking questions. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include basic human nature, needs vs. desires, parent/child relationships, infertility, second chances, motherhood, the past, redemption, and "lost children."

Please be sure to check out our STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG read-along discussion which is taking place today over at the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge blog. Even if you didn't sign up to participate, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Please stop by and join us!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

You guys did this on purpose! It's the one-two punch again. I read Case Histories too, years ago before I started blogging. I was pleasantly surprised by her nice combination of mystery and literature. I've been telling myself I need to read more from her but haven't gotten around to it. Sounds like this one is delightfully clever!

bermudaonion said...

This was my first experience with Atkinson' work and I really wish I'd read the other Jackson Brodie books before I read this one. I will admit that I found the transitions unsettling at times.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I feel like I'm seeing double today! :--) I actually picked up another Kate Atkinson at Border's the other day and can't wait to read it.

Alyce said...

Okay, you've convinced me. I've been on the lookout lately for mysteries that have more of a literary bent, so I'm going to put the first book on hold at the library.

Swapna said...

I hope to get to this one soon! I've read the first and third in this series, but haven't read One Good Turn.

Anonymous said...

I had a hard time getting started on this one but, I'm so glad I stuck with it. I loved it.

Marg said...

I read this a couple of weeks ago and am reminded anew with each Jackson Brodie how amazing Kate Atkinson's books are. The story strands seem so separate, it's hard to imagine them all coming together again, but they do.

I also like the humour in this one.