I am never sure if these Jackson Brodie novels by Kate Atkinson are a guilty reading pleasure as they are so easy to read and enjoyable. Actually, I think she is really clever and makes very witty observations. I was first attracted to the cover of Started Early, Took my Dog, showing Fountains Abbey. I have a feeling that I may have managed to miss out the last book When will there be Good News?, so various incidents were recounted that I couldn’t remember. This book seems bleaker than some of the others; poor Jackson, his life is so bad (no home, con artist wife, lonely etc) that I find it hard to imagine how he carries on, maybe its his lovely dog who he picks up in the novel. In fact the dog might be my favourite character.
The story begins with the discovery by policewoman Tracy of the murder of a prostitute in 1975 in Leeds which is then juxtaposed with incidents from the present day. It shows the institutional sexism of the police in the 1970s. The present day storylines involve Courtney, a child who is bought from a seemingly unfit mother by the extremely funny but tragic character of Tracy as well as the dementia of Tilly a soap actress.
What I love about Atkinson´s Brodie series are her evocative descriptions of the places where the novels are based, this time it is Leeds and various surrounding areas, as well as her social commentary and cutting satire on popular culture. She writes things that are definitely not politically correct such as “Courtney? Typical chav name” or an incident based in Whitby;
“He ran up the 199 steps to the abbey and was pleased about how fit he still was. Everywhere people were puffing and panting their way up the steps. He had never seen so many fat people in one place at the same time. …It used to be the poor who were thin and the rich who were fat it now seemed to be the other way round”
I actually had these thoughts as I went up the steps to Whitby but probably wouldn´t express them myself. She notices all the details of the places she is describing, in fact she sums up many of peoples´attitudes to Yorkshire;
“He had been trying to visit all the Betty´s tea rooms …. Jackson was a big fan of Betty´s, you could guarantee a decent coffee, as well as the waitresses looking as if they were nice girls and women, and everything was fitting and clean.”
She makes witty descriptions and the characters are self-deprecating. Incidents such as Jackson carrying a folder to show his authority and menace even though it is from poundland, contains nothing official and is neon pink make you laugh out loud..
This is a great page turner, extremely funny and well worth reading.