Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie, #4)

By Kate Atkinson

40,051 ratings - 3.93* vote

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective - a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other - or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small c Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective - a life that takes a surprising turn when she

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Book details

Hardcover, 350 pages
Original Title
Started Early, Took My Dog
Edition Language

Community Reviews


This novel is a great example of why I love Kate Atkinson’s writing so much. It is witty with surprise literary flourishes. It is authentic – I believe in the reality of all the characters and what they are experiencing. She masterfully deploys her plots in such a way that fascination is enhanced.

In this novel, the plot and sub-plots move between the mid-1970’s and roughly 30 years later. There are tie-ins with previous novels in this series. There are perfectly dropped tiny references to literary pieces, to music (both lyrics and titles), to current world events and historical ones. It is virtually impossible to be bored with one of these novels as they keep you on your toes and checking (or guessing at) the mentions that add spice and texture to the plots and the characters.

Briefly, the plots in this 4th novel of the series revolve around missing children from 1975. For Jackson Brodie it starts in the present day with an email from a woman in New Zealand asking for his help to find out who she was when she was born in England thirty years before. From her toddler years onward, she had adoptive parents and now that they are gone, she wants to find her roots.

Although he doesn’t really want another client, Jackson’s family history impels him to agree. He is then propelled into situations that are funny, dangerous, illuminating in some respects, and mystifying in others.

As we are led through the stories, past and present, connections begin to appear. Again, this is Kate Atkinson’s trademark: her complete control over the direction(s) the plots travel and the oblique, yet carefully crafted interactions between characters – both past and present – until it all comes together in a crescendo.

Jackson Brodie is a hero of sorts. He goes into a situation and stirs things up, often endangering himself in the process, and – much later – after resolutions come together in quick succession, he moves off into the sunset, talking to himself about plans that may or may not be what he wants to do next.

The sweet part in this novel is he has company on the next leg of his journey.


Always a joy to return to Kate Atkinson's brand of offbeat literary crime fiction, the in depth case studies of complex characters and their interior lives, of past tragedies and murder, the repercussions and the weaving of coincidences and connections into the narrative set here in Leeds and Whitby in Yorkshire. The retired police officer, Tracy Waterhouse, lives a quiet ordinary life of routines, and working security in a mall. Upon seeing a child being abused by a known offender, the courageous Tracy steps out of her well ordered life into the extraordinary and morally ambiguous territory as she tries to do the right thing. She purchases the child in an act loaded with good intentions after a life of the horrors she has seen, an act that brings complications and repercussions.

An elderly actress, Tilly Squires, is fighting the growing grip of dementia, haunted by past errors and loss. The lonely and flawed Jackson Brodie is bedevilled by his messy and chaotic personal life, and looking into a past life of a New Zealand woman to identify her birth mother. Jackson does a good thing when, without thinking twice, he takes an abused dog from his thuggish owner. There is much to love about this addition to the series, the dark humour, the cultural references, the way Atkinson deftly weaves in the connections between the characters, and in her stellar writing skills. I particularly loved the relationship between Tracy and Courtney. Many thanks to Random House Transworld for a copy.


The last time I read this I gave it 4 stars. I am upping it to five. I think reading the series straight through, instead of having gaps of years between books, has made it more familiar and I am more involved in the characters and their lives.

I know some readers do not like Atkinson's style and I can understand why. Each of her books begins the same way - jumping all over the place and introducing heaps of characters each of them with a detailed back story. I love it although I always read her books in paperback format so I can easily pop back to confirm bits I might have missed.

Started Early, Took My Dog is probably my personal favourite out of the four books so far. Jackson makes many appearances, gains a new friend and has another near death experience. Somewhere between the last book and this one he has discovered the truth about Nathan's parentage and has searched for but not found Tess. There are some great new characters too especially Tracey and Courtney who provide most of the entertainment.

I loved the setting. The book opens "1975: 9 April. Leeds: Motorway City of the Seventies". I was living in Leeds in 1975 so I enjoyed every reference to every place in and around it enormously!
Altogether a really good book and now I am going to spend a little time anticipating #5 Big Sky before I actually read it. After all it may be years before we get another Jackson Brodie book if ever.


Kate Atkinson’s fourth book in the Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took My Dog is another intriguing crime mystery novel that illustrates just how wonderful her characterisations and plotting are. What I appreciate Kate for is that while Jackson Brodie is the series protagonist, she will place other characters at the heart of a new plot. This provides a fascinating character Jackson Brodie, who we watch negotiate the disorder and struggle with life as he travels through the series. In addition, new characters come into focus that bring a unique blend of personality and background to a specific story. The strategy is brilliant!

Ex-police officer, current security officer, Tracy Waterhouse, steps into a scene at a Shopping Centre in Leeds to rescue a young child, Courtney, from a nasty abusive woman. In a step aimed at helping a child from a dreadful situation, she buys the child and opens up issues that her settled life maybe wasn’t ready for. I found this element too far-fetched, but putting it aside, the relationship between Tracy and Courtney is very engaging as it develops. The realisation of just having bought a child and its ramifications bring a completely different life to Tracy and Courtney, especially as Courtney grows in confidence. The dialogue is masterful, drawing on the humour and crazy situations they find themselves in and learning so much about each other.

Witnessing the infraction in the Shopping Centre, is Tilly, a retired actress, an elderly lady experiencing the onset of dementia. She has an episode at the Shopping Centre where her confusion leaves her feeling frightened and unsettled. I had a real soft spot for Tilly and felt for her during her states of confusion, where the public can be either understanding or impatient.

At the same time, Jackson engages with Tilly and shortly after rescues a dog from a brutal bully that has the dog cowering after being beaten. Ex-cop and current PI, Jackson is now working for a New Zealander to help her find her estranged mother in Britain.

Three threads that weave imperceptibly through each other at different energies and timings. This is something Kate does really well as each POV comes into focus the others are not entirely dropped. That little touch of connection keeps everything alive and spinning.

The characters in a Kate Atkinson novel and the clever way she brings about their connection with each other are just wonderful. She is a very talented writer but there is something that holds me back giving 5 stars to her books and I think it’s because there’s always a bit too much coincidence and some steps of believability that don't sit well with me.

I would recommend reading this book and I’d like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Black Swan and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.


Another Kate Atkinson arrived at our library, and lived up to my sky-high expectations.

Here's the thing: if you want everything tied up in a neat package: no. If you want a linear narrative: no. "Easy read": no.

But if you love interesting, complex characters, complex stories and delightful writing: yes. Part-time private-eye and semi-successful womanizer Jackson Brodie, and cranky retired cop Tracy Waterhouse are the centerpieces of this book. Jackson spends the book confused, chasing several people that he believes may have the answers for an adopted client. Tracy also spends the book confused, running away from people she thinks are chasing her after she "purchases" an abused-looking child from an angry petty criminal. Atkinson tackles the themes of identity, confusion, and family while following these two constantly-moving characters.

My only complaint is about the amount of time that Jackson spends brooding about his ex-wives/girlfriends. Also, there are some loose ends (Atkinson tends to tie up her convergent stories by the last page). This leads me to the happy conclusion, though, that we haven't seen the last of either Jackson or Tracy.


March 2021 review:
Jackson Brodie Book 4:
In West Yorkshire, across the same towns and cities the Yorkshire Ripper terrorised, our non-hero Jackson Brodie is searching for two people, his ex-wife who fleeced him, and the origins of an adopted New Zealander seeking her real parents story. Along the way we get in the heads of a likeable child kidnapper (I kid you not), an elderly thespian living in the past, a police chief who can't forget or forgive the past, and a social worker connected to all three - as ever in a Brodie read we have a cast of characters with a common thread of a crime committed in the past. Another refreshing look at the North of England through the eyes of her cast with some great cynical and/or dark humour under-laying it all. 7.5 out of 12. The truth of the matter is, I just can't stop reading this series, it's addictive!

January 2012 review:
Jackson Brodie mystery No. 4
:Intricately plotted, an eclectic selection of believable characters, with some wonderful wit and satire centred around TV crime serials; this book sees Atkinson tell the story of the past catching up with a number of people in Yorkshire, as Jackson Brodie is sent to look for the birth parents of a New Zealand located Yorkshire born woman. A wonderful read, really nicely balanced and with arcs, that make you not want to put this down. Every time I read an Atkinson, I'm like... why don't I read more of her work! 9 out of 12!


I regret to say it, but I didn't like this book as much as the three previous Jackson Brodie novels. The writing felt looser, not as polished. There was lots of rambling and POV-switching, which sometimes made it hard to keep up with what was going on. I also disliked the characters reminiscing so much, as the narrative would skip between the past and the present without always signposting it. And how annoying were all those descriptions of Jackson "tapping in" an email on his phone to Hope McMaster?

I also wanted answers at the end, which I didn't get. Some mysteries were solved, but Courtney's identity and Kelly Cross's murder -- two major threads of the plot -- were left unresolved, which was frustrating. Jackson's unexplained ~revelation~ at the end was clearly that Courtney's birthmark matched the list of distinguishing signs in Mitch's missing children folder, but that doesn't answer anything -- it just confirms that she was a missing child, and not Kelly's daughter.

But I did like Tracy Waterhouse, and Courtney's papal gestures with her silver fairy wand. Their story carried the whole book along and made the other bits more bearable.


My friend Jemidar and I put off reading this, the fourth of Kate Atkinson’s novels featuring former police officer and former private detective Jackson Brodie, because we heard it ended in a cliffhanger. We don’t like hanging from cliffs and thought we’d wait until the next Jackson Brodie novel was published before putting ourselves in that situation. Turns out that Atkinson is not planning to write any more books in the series in the foreseeable future, so we decided to delay no longer. As it happens, we were also wrong in thinking that this novel ends in a cliffhanger. Although the ending’s not tied up in a neat bow, it does have a sense of completeness to it, all the while leaving open the possibility that Atkinson could change her mind and return to writing about Jackson Brodie at some point in the future.

This installment in the series is set in and around Leeds and in Whitby in Northern Yorkshire. Jackson is trying to track down the birth mother of a woman in New Zealand. His investigation leads him to chance encounters with a retired policewoman working as a security officer, a small child, an elderly actress in the early stages of dementia and an abused dog. From those encounters spins the story of a murder which occurred in 1975, police corruption and child abduction. However, the crimes are not the point of the novel. As she does in the earlier Jackson Brodie novels – and, for that matter, in her standalone works - Atkinson uses the plot to explore themes of grief, loss, loneliness, dysfunctional family relationships and mortality.

Atkinson’s characters are not happy, or if they are happy it’s unlikely to last. They are vulnerable, damaged and lost, looking for connection and only sometimes finding it. For them, loving is fraught with danger, being loved is temporary at best, but they still strive for both. This sounds grim, and it is. And yet, Atkinson’s elegant, ironic prose, her deft characterization and the intelligence, compassion and humour of her writing make her novels a joy to read. The most poignant and haunting scenes in this novel involve the secondary characters: little Courtney with her collection of belongings, her magic wand and her fingers forming stars; Tilly as she slowly sinks into dementia, the loyal Yorkshire terrier rescuing its new master.

A reader who expects a simple mystery or detective story from the Jackson Brodie novels will probably be disappointed. Atkinson eschews a conventional linear narrative. Instead, she jumps around in time and uses interior monologues that at times border on stream of consciousness to advance the narrative. In addition, the work is full of literary allusions (the title is a line from an Emily Dickinson poem) and allusions to quantum mechanics (Shrödinger’s cat appears more than once). Atkinson is not afraid to use improbable coincidences in the plot, a technique that has the potential to annoy fans of more traditional crime fiction. However, the effect of chance encounters and the seemingly random choices people make are themes that run all through Atkinson’s writing and reinforce the sense she gives of the unpredictability of life.

If this is indeed the last Jackson Brodie novel, then it is a fitting end to his career. While I’d like to see him return, I completely understand if Atkinson decides to retire him permanently. At least he’ll have that lovely dog to keep him company on his travels and to stop him from feeling too sorry for himself.

I love Kate Atkinson’s writing and it has been a joy to read this particular novel with Jemidar.


Definitely my least favorite Jackson Brodie novel.

I've seen others rate this book very highly, and to each their own -- but I thought it pretty much sucked. I usually like Atkinson's typical method of having multiple storylines going on at once, and true to form, they did manage to blend together about 3/4 of the way through the book ... but I got extremely irritated with all of the pointless internal dialogue that did nothing to contribute to the story. Having multiple characters is only good if the characters and their stories are actually interesting -- and I could've done without most of the extra backstory junk. Also, I think every page in which the character Tilly appeared could've been deleted altogether, as she served no purpose whatsoever and was an absolute bore.

I realize that the entire story couldn't have been about Jackson -- but this book would've been a lot better if it focused more on him, and him solving the 'mystery'.

Oh, and also -- storylines that don't get resolved irritate me. Others may be fine with it, but I think it's annoying. How hard would it have been to tell us who Courtney's Mom really was? And maybe a bit of resolution from Hope's end (i.e., what did she do with the information, how did she take it?), and not just Michael's, would've been nice.