Dan's Reviews > Started Early, Took My Dog

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
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's review
Feb 01, 2012

really liked it

Adoption should always be like this
More than once I’ve thought Kate Atkinson should have titled her series of four Jackson Brodie books “Crash I, II, III & IV.”

These books – all of them – are about smashups, people or vehicles colliding and incidents past and present piling up on one another.

The action is mostly chaotic, frenetic and always unexpected and characters in each of the books – usually nearer the end – are like atoms smashing into each inside a super-collider. And always there seems to be a child or adolescent, a girl, involved and her presence or absence determines someone else’s future.

In “Started Early, Took My Dog,” the child is three or four-year-old Courtney, parentage and last name unknown, the little girl recently procured from Kelly Cross, prostitute, druggie and “all-round pikey,” by retired police detective Tracy Waterhouse, who on a whim decides to spend £3,000 she had saved up for a kitchen remodel to purchase the kid. In a way and in Tracy’s mind the money is sort of like an adoption fee. The whole process from offer to approval simply took place in less than a minute.

The former copper, now a member of the security team at the Merrion Centre shopping mall exchanges cash for the kid after following the crazed adult dragging the screaming child as if she were some sort of scruffy, stuffed animal that no cared about any longer.

One moment Tracy was standing “contemplating the human wreckage that was Kelly Cross, the next she was saying to her, ‘How much?’ “

It’s hard to tell who is surprised most by the impulse buy, Tracy or Kelly.

For her part, Courtney soon blesses the transaction with the star-topped silver wand that came with her new pink fairy outfit Tracy buys for her accessorized with little wings and a tiara. With a “green caterpillar of snot crawling out of her nose,” Courtney isn’t the most beautiful of children but she’ll grab you heart in ways you’d never expect, least of all Tracy.

Courtney is one of what seems to be a tribe of lost children who have been abandoned, abducted or have died in or around Leeds in the past four decades. Courtney is the heart of this story because it’s a Kate Atkinson book and all these little souls, these innocents, waifs or orphans will all be connected across time with emotional, heartrending, sometimes devastating consequences.

Jackson Brodie is involved because has been retained to look into the true identity of one of these lost kids, now grown and living in New Zealand.

Along the way, Jackson also has rescued and taken in his own little lost creature, an abused mutt, a terrier he’s named The Ambassador.

There’s also a larger ensemble of offbeat characters somehow rendered more real for all their weirdness and eccentricities than your normal next door neighbor.

Everyone is interesting in his or her own fashion. They live different lives, play out their role at different decades in the story and everything seems to be happening without order or reason. But in Atkinson’s worldview, there is most often some sort of rhyme and reason; you just have to be patient and wait for everything to make sense or to not make sense as the case may be.

Depending on your temperament and your comfort in dealing with some ambiguity, you’ll either be immensely entertained or terribly annoyed. Me, I’m really looking to the next book in the series, which I’m personally calling “Crash V.”

[Gotta give it 4.5 stars for the kid and her wand, which she waves in benediction as if she were the Queen Mother herself]
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