The first time I read a Kate Atkinson book, it was because Max, having heard a review of it on the radio, bought me Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It remains one of my all time favourite books. After that came another couple by her, neither of which caught me enough to read them again (although now, I wonder if I was just a bit young, I might try them again) and then she moved on to her Jackson Brodie series.
Jackson is a private detective; he’s a decently good one too, without being a Poirot style, wrap it all up character. Bits of story trail through the books so that you can never be entirely sure that something, or someone, is finished with – unless they are dead. Which does, admittedly, happen a fair bit. Even to Jackson. Set in the UK, mostly in the north, they are the definition of gritty and it is hard to imagine Jackson having a day that is light hearted and in bright sunlight. He’s always up against it – and it is usually raining.
It is impossible not to like Jackson. He’s remained endearingly the same throughout the series, while also changing as his experiences go from the bizarre to the slightly insane and surreal. He’s recognisable from the first book, certainly, and the cast of characters surrounding him fleshes him out enough that I always feel he could potentially just turn up at my house and I’d find myself asking about his daughter and ex-wife.
Kate Atkinson has a great style; it’s neat, funny in a razor at your throat for a joke sort of way and reads as if she is speaking. Phrases drop in and out of it like afterthoughts but they are beautifully placed so that reading her work is pacey but a delight. I’d kill to write like she does, to be quite honest.
Started Early, Took My Dog is certainly more out of the same mould; it’s a good story and perhaps more than ever it has a huge sense of who Jackson Brodie is. He’s at a cross roads in his life, brought to a particular place by circumstances that have left him rootless and bemused and it shows. His detective work is less clinical than previously and you sense that he’s a man with much on his mind who happens to get answers by luck and experience as much as by cunning. The strength of the book is in fact in the characterisation of some of the other people, Tracy and Tilly in particular. You really get to know them even though, in some respects, they are almost incidental to the plot. Tilly in particular is the most extra-ordinary characterisation of an elderly woman plummeting fast into dementia. She’s beautifully drawn despite having just two moments where the plot actually pivots on her at all. Tracy, well, I sense she has more to tell us yet.
There were aspects of this I found less perfect. For the first time, Atkinson seemed determined to place the novel in time, with lots of references to the current financial crisis (I’m sensing she’s angry!) and recent programmes like Life on Mars. It made me wonder how well it will age, in some respects. Some of the cast, a nondescript bunch of thuggish policemen, were hard to grasp and separate – this may have been deliberate, as a device it would certainly work, but their identities were important at various parts and I struggled to keep hold of who was doing what.
A solid 8/10, maybe even close to 9. I’d read it again, I’d happily recommend it, I read it on my Kindle but it could well end p on my bookcase too.
For BabyLostMamas – this is a bad one; there is a mother mourning her baby, a host of lost/gone/missing children and babies, grief and emptiness, abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth and even a little white coffin being carried in loving arms. So err… you know…