Monday, September 10, 2012

Started Early, Took My Dog

By Kate Atkinson
Boston, Back Bay Books, 2011
400 pages     Fiction

The first time I read one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries, I was in love. Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth time that Jackson Brodie has met a bunch of unique women and solved some difficult crimes related to those women. Now that Jason Isaacs is playing Jackson Brodie on BBC, we even know what he looks like, although Isaacs may be more handsome than I imagined Jackson Brodie to be. Atkinson has two things going for her in the Jackson Brodie mysteries: Jackson Brodie is a very interesting, conflicted character and the women he runs into are feisty and colorful. 

Started Early, Took My Dog is messy. Brodie is in a rather bad state; he has been running from himself for several months even as he searches for his ex-wife who stole all his money. He is in Leeds in Yorkshire “searching for the lost pastoral England that was lodged in his head and his heart” when he is hired by a woman in New Zealand to find her British mother. While he searches for his ex-wife, he is also searching for the lost mother. It appears that the New Zealand woman is somehow tied to a woman that may have been murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s. But how does the old lady actress fit into the puzzle? And the woman police sergeant who has just bought a little girl from a prostitute and is running for her life? 

And then there is the dog. Jackson has two children including a teen aged daughter who has occasionally gone with her father on his escapades, but in this book she is virtually non-existent except to be worried over. Instead, Jackson has acquired a dog that accompanies him and on one incident saves his life. The dog is just one more complication in an already extremely complicated life.
Like all Atkinson mysteries, the pieces eventually fit together, the grisly crimes are resolved, some more satisfactorily than others, and Jackson meanders on. The beauty of Atkinson’s writing is that the characters are just as interesting as the plotting. Jackson Brodie is a great character and no matter how messy the book gets, Jackson seems to survive and bumble his way to a solution. One of the best comments is about the atheistic Jackson. “He missed God. But then who didn’t.”

The reviewer in the Seattle Post: “Reading Atkinson is like working on a puzzle, trying to figure out how she is going to weave it all together, and it is fascinating how she manages to do it-the first few times, anyway.” I felt that way too. Atkinson may be getting a little bit tired of her character. She says as much in an interview published on the website. She tells the interviewer: “I found the Brodie books easy to begin with, and then very difficult to finish. I haven't actually finished with him yet but at the moment he's taking a holiday somewhere restful. I found the new book really hard but I think I'd just run out of steam with the character. I'm writing something completely different at the moment and it's amazing how much energy I have for it and what a relief it feels! I think the next time I re-visit Jackson it will be with that same kind of enthusiasm -- and he (and I) will be all the better for having taken a break from each other!” Now that I have read four of the books and watched 6 hours of the series, I am probably ready to take a break from Jackson Brodie as well.

If you haven’t tried any of the Jackson Brodie novels by Kate Atkinson, it’s high time you delve into them. The Case Histories BBC series is available on Netflix and is quite faithful to the text, although Jackson gets more air time in the television show than he does in the books.
Here are the other Jackson Brodie book titles and my reviews: Case Histories; One Good Turn; and When Will There be Good News.

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