By Sara Vilkomerson
March 23, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Started Early, Took My Dog


Kate Atkinson introduced us to Jackson Brodie, a police inspector?turned?private investigator, in the terrific 2004 thriller Case Histories. Brodie is an immensely appealing character — an almost cuddly curmudgeon (with an apparently irresistible grin, making him catnip to the opposite sex), capable of great puzzle-solving insight yet befuddled by the women of his past and present — and Atkinson must enjoy writing him, because she brought him back, with varying results, for 2006’s One Good Turn and 2008’s When Will There Be Good News?

Her latest, Started Early, Took My Dog, features the semiretired Brodie in his fourth turn, baffled as ever by the women in his life — this time, the thieving ex-wife who stole his money as well as a client, an adopted woman searching for her biological parents. Brodie’s investigation into her past takes him to the Yorkshire territories of his youth and stirs up long-cold mysteries, including the police cover-up of a prostitute’s murder. Along the way, Atkinson presents a new cast of characters, among them Tracy, a retired and lonely police officer who — on a whim — ”buys” a small child after witnessing the girl’s abuse at the hands of her junkie guardian, and Tilly, an actress struggling with both her wig and her senility.

Atkinson skillfully weaves these seemingly separate story lines together, creating an almost melancholy tale about the passage of time and the ripple effect of consequences of past acts. You don’t need to have read the earlier Brodie books to keep up, and while this book is firmly rooted in the mystery genre, Atkinson’s prose is so lovely, with startlingly keen observations and wit, even those uninterested in the solving of various whodunits will be spellbound. B+

Started Early, Took My Dog

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