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“Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson

“What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about 3 things- death, money, and sex. Occasionally a whale.”

Well this novel has the death, money, and sex thing going for it.

What starts out as 3 seemingly separate narratives eventually combine to make one twisted, messed up, lie-ridden conspiracy cover-up that leaves you just shaking your head at the end.

First there’s Tracy Waterhouse: left school at 15 to do a shorthand and typing course and went from secretary to police force in 2 years. After 30+ years in the force, she’s now works security at the local shopping mall to supplement her pension from the police. “Police pensioner- sounded Dickinson as if she should be sitting in a corner of a workhouse, wrapped in a dirty shawl.” Built “like a brick shit house”, everyone assumed she was a “butch old battle-axe”. Never married, no kids. Sleep, eat, protect, repeat is the only life she knew. Feels like she’s been mopping up after disasters all her life- and then bought a kid from a prostitute at the bus station at the mall for 3,000.

Then there’s Tilly- aging actress in the early stages of dementia- “collects” things she doesn’t remember even seeing, losing things- Silly Tilly. I really felt for her- everyone getting frustrated she couldn’t remember her lines or anyone’s names anymore- up at 3am making dinner- but plays a definite key role in the book.

And finally, Jackson Brodie- who is working for an adopted client named Hope MacMaster to help her track down her origins. The story goes that her biological parents died in a wreck, but there’s no record of her parents’ existence, no birth certificate for her, no adoption papers: she was just suddenly taken in to a family and whisked away from England to New Zealand- a little suspicious? Jackson also finds himself in possession of a new companion, this one a dog he rescued from some meat-headed abusive jerk. Kid or dog: I think Jackson got the better end of the deal here.

I loved this story because of the way it all brilliantly connected everyone’s present to one frightening past event.  I didn’t love this story because I’m not English, so a couple of the phrases were lost on me, such as:

“Slap a doorstep onto a piece of kitchen roll”, “a job-lot of clapped out men” and “tie me Kangaroo down, sport, eh?” (this last one I do believe to be a bit of sexual innuendo directed towards a rather attractive Australian girl, but still, I’m including it).

It also left you thinking about who were the “good guys” and who were the “bad guys” because there was really no clear-cut answer for any of them.

“It was like being in a game, a game where you didn’t know the rules or identity of the other players and where you were unsure of the goal. Were you a pawn or a player?”

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