Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog opens with an epigraph from the old rhyme “For want of a nail,” an adage that exemplifies the attention to the large consequences of small actions that has become the hallmark of Atkinson’s richly woven literary mysteries. In the fourth outing for Jackson Brodie, at this point a somewhat reluctant sleuth, he has returned to his hometown to track down a client’s birth family, only to discover that she is connected to a 30-year-old murder.
His best lead is retired Leeds cop Tracy Waterhouse, a woman who is so lonely that she dreads the day the Polish builder completes work on her kitchen remodel. Maybe that’s why she impulsively gives her home improvement nest egg to a known prostitute and drug dealer—in exchange for a small child called Courtney, whom she assumes is the hooker’s daughter. Tracy soon discovers this is not the case, and that there are others besides Brodie who are on her trail. Discovering why, and how, the two cases are connected is for the reader to discover, but as usual it’s an intricate web.
There are some lighter moments for the brooding Brodie this time around. Most of these feature “The Ambassador,” an abused terrier Brodie rescues in a park whose fierce loyalty and simple love is a welcome change from the complicated relationships with the women in his life. And there’s another P.I. in town named Jackson—but is he friend, or foe?
Overall, though, the mood here is dark and contemplative, not unlike that of her now-iconic hero. Atkinson continues to explore the ramifications of violence, especially violence directed at women and children. Her work does not portray a cozy fictional world; rather, it shines a light on the harsh side of this one. Started Early, Took My Dog is a satisfying treat for fans of intelligent mystery.