Tuesday, March 29, 2011


"The Butchered Bride.  They call it 'True Noir,'" Marilyn Nettles said.  "Basically they're books for people who can't read."  She contemplated the screaming woman on the jacket.  "Women in jeopardy," she said, handing Jackson a mug of coffee.  "Very popular.  You have to wonder."

                      Quoted from 
                      Started Early, Took My Dog.


This is a terrible world.  If you don't believe it, all you have to do is to look at the CNN footage of a young raped woman who is seeking justice being dragged away by Lybian police.

She had sought to tell her story to western journalists, how she was raped and abused by Lybian soldiers, but she was brutally dragged away. 

Even now, we don't know what happened to her. Lybian authorites say they have returned her to her family, though there is no way of confirming that, and we all know how the Lybians lie. (Of course, other authorities lie too! That's one point of this book.)

If you think those kinds of things happen only in Libya or at this time in our history, you need to read Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog. 

The quote at the beginning of these comments reflects something of what I saw this book to be.  No literary toleration of abuse here.  No writing to titillate of the sort that some noir writing might historically have been.

Not all noir writing is like that, of course.  To take a modern example, look at Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor book about the Magdalene laundries.

But admittedly, too much noir has historically exploited violence to titillate. 

This author and this book (I haven't read the others) tackles that abuse in noir writing head on.

The story has three main characters: Private Investigator Jackson Brodie, ex-cop Tracy Waterouse, and the failing actress Tilly Squires.

The author tells their stories separately, gradually weaving them together.  And all the stories revolve around the brutal cold-case murder of a young mother.

Jackson Brodie and Tracy Waterhouse each find something which enriches their lives. Brodie finds a stray dog (named The Ambassador), and Waterhouse buys a young child, the daughter she has always wanted. (You will have to read the book to see how that happens.)

In some ways, Tracy's story has a sort of resonance with the cold case murder which she helped investigate as a greenhorn cop.  And now Jackson Brodie and others are investigating those events again.

Meanwhile, Tilly Squires, a declining actress in the midst of dementia, watches her life fall apart until, finally, she ends it in a scene that brings all three people's stories together.

Started Early, Took My Dog has to do with the abuse of authority as well as with the plight of so many women and abandoned children. 

This is a literary novel with a mystery wrapped inside.  The title comes from a lesser-known Emily Dickinson poem.  And the book ends with a famous Dickinson poem. 

Tilly, especially, quotes from drama and Shakespeare. Jackson Brodie also is well-read. 

Literary references fill the book. 

Also, the book, like many literary novels, goes at things round-about, through many points of view and jarring transitions.  No straight-through Spenser-kind-of-writing here.

But if you hang in with the narrative until it all falls together (for me that was in the last third of the book), you will be well rewarded.  This is a great or almost-great book. 

It took me a while to read it.  Sometimes I had to go back and reread just to know where the book was going, but Started Early, Took My Dog was truly worth the work.

I recommend this book.


Cathy said...

I have read the first two books in this series and greatly enjoyed them. I look forward to reading this one. Thanks for the review!

Joe Barone said...

You're welcome.