The Washington Post
Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie Series #4)by Kate Atkinson
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… See more details below
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 child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
British private detective Jackson Brodie, star of three previous Atkinson novels (When Will There Be Good News, 2008, etc.), finds himself embroiled in a case which shows that defining crime is sometimes as difficult as solving it.
Tracy Waterhouse, who is middle-aged, overweight and lonely, heads security for a mall in Leeds. Retired from the local police force, she remains haunted by one of her earliest cases, when she and her partner found a little boy abandoned in the apartment where his mother had been murdered days earlier. Although the murderer was supposedly found (but died before being brought to trial), Tracy never learned what happened to the child with whom she'd formed a quick bond. When Tracy sees a known prostitute/lowlife mistreating her child at the mall, she impulsively offers to buy the child, and the woman takes the money and runs. Tracy knows she has technically broken the law and even suspects the woman might not be the real mother, but her protective instinct and growing love for the little girl named Courtney overrides common sense; she begins arrangements to flee Leeds and start a new life with the child. Meanwhile, Jackson has come to Leeds on his own case. Raised and living in Australia, adoptee Hope McMaster wants information about her birth parents, who supposedly died in a car crash in Leeds 30 years ago. As he pursues the case, Jackson considers his relationships with his own kids—a troublesome teenage daughter from his first marriage and a young son whom DNA tests have recently proved he fathered with a former lover. Jackson's search and Tracy's quest intertwine as Jackson's questions make the Leeds police force increasingly nervous. It becomes clear that the 1975 murder case Tracy worked on is far from solved and has had lasting repercussions.
The sleuthing is less important than Atkinson's fascinating take on the philosophic and emotional dimensions of her characters' lives.
Read an Excerpt
1975: 9 April
Leeds: ‘Motorway City of the Seventies’. A proud slogan. No irony intended. Gaslight still flickering on some streets. Life in a northern town.
The Bay City Rollers at number one. IRA bombs all over the country. Margaret Thatcher is the new leader of the Conservative Party. At the beginning of the month, in Albuquerque, Bill Gates founds what will become Microsoft.At the end of the month Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese army. The Black and White Minstrel Show is still on television, John Poulson is still in jail. Bye Bye Baby, Baby Goodbye. In the middle of it all, Tracy Waterhouse was only concerned with the hole in one of the toes of her tights. It was growing bigger with every step she took.They were new on this morning as well.
They had been told that it was on the fifteenth floor of the flats in Lovell Park and - of course - the lifts were broken. The two PCs huffed and puffed their way up the stairs. By the time they neared the top they were resting at every turn of the stair. WPC Tracy Waterhouse, a big, graceless girl only just off probation, and PC Ken Arkwright, a stout white Yorkshireman with a heart of lard. Climbing Everest.
They would both see the beginning of the Ripper’s killing spree but Arkwright would be retired long before the end of it. Donald Neilson, the Black Panther from Bradford, hadn’t been captured yet and Harold Shipman had probably already started killing patients unlucky enough to be under his care in Pontefract General Infirmary.West Yorkshire in 1975, awash with serial killers.
Tracy Waterhouse was still wet behind the ears, although she wouldn’t admit to it. Ken Arkwright had seen more than most but remained avuncular and sanguine, a good copper for a green girl to be beneath the wing of. There were bad apples in the barrel – the dark cloud of David Oluwale’s death still cast a long shadow on police in the West Riding, but Arkwright wasn’t under it. He could be violent when necessary, sometimes when not, but he didn’t discriminate on the grounds of colour when it came to reward and punishment. And women were often slappers and scrubbers but he’d helped out a few street girls with fags and cash, and he loved his wife and daughters.
Despite pleas from her teachers to stay on and ‘make something of herself ’,Tracy had left school at fifteen to do a shorthand and typing course and went straight into Montague Burton’s offices as a junior, eager to get on with her adult life. ‘You’re a bright girl,’ the man in personnel said, offering her a cigarette. ‘You could go far.You never know, PA to the MD one day.’ She didn’t know what ‘MD’ meant. Wasn’t too sure about ‘PA’ either.The man’s eyes were all over her.
Sixteen, never been kissed by a boy, never drunk wine, not even Blue Nun. Never eaten an avocado or seen an aubergine, never been on an aeroplane. It was different in those days.
She bought a tweed maxi coat from Etam and a new umbrella. Ready for anything. Or as ready as she would ever be.Two years later she was in the police. Nothing could have prepared her for that. Bye Bye,Baby.
Tracy was worried that she might never leave home. She spent her nights in front of the television with her mother while her father drank – modestly – in the local Conservative club.Together,Tracy and her mother, Dorothy, watched The Dick Emery Show or Steptoe and Son or Mike Yarwood doing an impression of Steptoe and his son. Or Edward Heath, his shoulders heaving up and down. Must have been a sad day for Mike Yarwood when Margaret Thatcher took over the leadership. Sad day for everyone. Tracy had never understood the attraction of impressionists.
Her stomach rumbled like a train. She’d been on the cottage cheese and grapefruit diet for a week.Wondered if you could starve to death while you were still overweight.
‘Jesus H. Christ,’ Arkwright gasped, bending over and resting his hands on his knees when they finally achieved the fifteenth floor. ‘I used to be a rugby wing forward, believe it or not.’
‘Ay, well, you’re just an old, fat bloke now,’ Tracy said. ‘What number?’
‘Twenty-five. It’s at the end.’
A neighbour had phoned in anonymously about a bad smell (‘a right stink’) coming from the flat.
‘Dead rats, probably,’Arkwright said.‘Or a cat. Remember those two dogs in that house in Chapeltown? Oh no, before your time, lass.’
‘I heard about it. Bloke went off and left them without any food. They ate each other in the end.’
‘They didn’t eat each other,’ Arkwright said. ‘One of them ate the other one.’
‘You’re a bloody pedant, Arkwright.’
‘A what? Cheeky so-and-so. Ey up, here we go. Fuck a duck, Trace, you can smell it from here.’
Tracy Waterhouse pressed her thumb on the doorbell and kept it there. Glanced down at her ugly police-issue regulation black laceups and wiggled her toes inside her ugly police-issue regulation black tights. Her big toe had gone right through the hole in the tights now and a ladder was climbing up towards one of her big footballer’s knees. ‘It’ll be some old bloke who’s been lying here for weeks,’ she said. ‘I bloody hate them.’
‘I hate train jumpers.’
‘Yeah. They’re the worst,’ Arkwright agreed. Dead children were trumps, every time.
Tracy took her thumb off the doorbell and tried turning the door handle. Locked. ‘Ah, Jesus, Arkwright, it’s humming in there. Something that’s not about to get up and walk away, that’s for sure.’
Arkwright banged on the door and shouted,‘Hello, it’s the police here, is anyone in there? Shit,Tracy, can you hear that?’
Ken Arkwright bent down and looked through the letterbox.‘Oh, Christ—’ He recoiled from the letterbox so quickly that Tracy’s first thought was that someone had squirted something into his eyes. It had happened to a sergeant a few weeks ago, a nutter with a Squeezy washing-up bottle full of bleach. It had put everyone off looking through letterboxes. Arkwright, however, immediately squatted down and pushed open the letterbox again and started talking soothingly, the way you would to a nervy dog. ‘It’s OK, it’s OK, everything’s OK now. Is Mummy there? Or your daddy? We’re going to help you. It’s OK.’ He stood and got ready to shoulder the door. Pawed the ground, blew air out of his mouth and said to Tracy, ‘Prepare yourself, lass, it’s not going to be pretty.’
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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