I was looking for a book for my wife a few months ago, as it was her birthday and she likes to read. I plugged in a couple of old chestnuts into a book recommendation site: "If you like..., then you'll like..." I think I entered Zadie Smith's "White Teeth", maybe a Roddy Doyle into the "search" field...and Atkinson's book "Started Early, Took My Dog" is what the algorithm decided she'd like. Not only did my wife enjoy it, I loved it, too.
Thankfully, this novel is a stand-alone tale despite being the fourth of Atkinson's novels featuring a private detective called Jackson Brodie. Brodie, despite (or because of?) a colourful past, now only works seemingly innocuous and straightforward cases, such as tracking down an adopted woman's birth parents (as in this novel) in Leeds. This case, contrary to his expectations, turns out to be neither innocuous nor straightforward. Brodie shares the stage with with two other primary protagonists: Tracy, a lonely, unfulfilled, but resourceful and clever retired police officer who now works as a security supervisor at a shopping mall, and Tilly, an aging, washed-up, kindly, and (not-so-ironically) forgotten actress. Their lives become connected, at first quite superficially and tenuously. As the novel progresses, it's clear their paths were meant to intertwine as a result of an event which occurred decades before, when Tracy was the first officer at the scene of a horrendous crime. The cold case, a murder and disappearance, appears to implicate the top brass of the local police department in a sordid tale of illicit trysts, cover-ups, and fall guys.
Brodie's investigation develops slowly, as he seems to uncover more questions than answers. Tracy, meanwhile, tries to change the past by rescuing (through purchasing) an adorably peculiar toddler from a known drug user who is mistreating the little one in public. Tilly is witness to more than one travesty, and overcomes her ailment (which is ingeniously revealed by Atkinson) to recruit assistance for the victims she wants to save. Malevolent forces are at work who want to stifle Brodie's progress, ensure Tracy's silence, and ignore Tilly altogether.
Abounding with unlikely villains, even less likely heroes, and a brilliantly measured pace, "Started Early, Took My Dog" also had me running a gamut of emotions from mirth and sadness to outright fear and triumph. I'm glad someone out there in cyberspace thought my wife and I would enjoy it--they were dead right.