I started writing this blog post back when I read the book, but life (read: assignments) got in the way. So it has been finished in a completely different style at the last minute. But look- a proper blog post!
Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie books all seem very multi-layered- weaving together different characters and different narratives leading to the eventual denouement. In 'Started Early, Took My Dog', I found it a bit too fragmented and disconnected at first, but by the end she had once again succeeded in pulling the threads together and creating an intriguing mystery and solution (with some red herrings thrown in for good measure). The slow beginnings give way to a sense of urgency by the end of the book in a satisfying way.
Jackson Brodie appears somewhat late in the book, trying to find out the background of a girl in New Zealand who wants to discover the identity of her birth mother. Meanwhile, as a kind of reaction against a horrific scene earlier in her life, finding the child of a murder victim, an ex-cop security guard buys a disadvantaged child as a way of fixing something in the world. The narrative alternates between the police force and murder in the '70s and Jackson's investigation in the present day, detouring through his current relationship woes.
It struck me that this book does in a way what 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' promises- confronts the problem of violence against women. But without the graphic torture and rape scenes, which in my book is a good thing. Violence happens a lot in this series (it's a crime series after all), in a lot of varying ways and degrees, with the impact felt over time. It's a more realistic world than the Stieg Larsson books- fewer serial killers for one thing. Although having said that, much of 'One Good Turn' felt somewhat farcical. But the effects of crime are never far away, indeed our hero is still haunted by the long-ago murder of his sister. I don't know if that description is very enticing, but can I just say these books are much better than Steig Larsson's, and very different!
One characteristic feature is the (quite dark) humour of these books. Perhaps very dry is a better word than dark, it's not exactly morbid but it does make humour out of some of the less cheerful aspects of life. The hero is far from infallible, and not exactly at the centre of the story all the time, but the characters in general are likeable-but-hopeless types. In fact one of my few criticisms of this series is that the characters have perhaps too much of a tendency towards the same voice.