Started Early, Took My Dog

A Novel

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By Kate Atkinson

Read by Graeme Malcolm

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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.

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.’
 
‘Dead kiddies.’
 
‘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?’
 
‘Flies?’
 
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.

Genre:

  • "Brilliant...Atkinson seamlessly weaves together [strands] in a plot driven by coincidence and a diamond-hard recognition of man's darker nature...[Tracy's] odyssey as a new parent to a waif dressed in a ragged fairy costume, relayed with both tenderness and wry wit, must be one of the grandest love affairs in crime fiction...For its singular melding of radiant humor and dark deeds, this is must-reading for literary crime-fiction fans."—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist, starred review
  • "The sleuthing is less important than Atkinson's fascinating take on the philosophical and emotional dimensions of her characters' lives."—Kirkus
  • "[The Jackson Brodie books] are an entrancing hybrid of the literary novel/detective story. Case Histories...is a classic....Atkinson's views of contemporary society can be bleak, but she has an amazing eye for kids, dogs and human fallibility." —Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times
  • "Magnificently plotted...In the author's signature multilayered style, she shifts between past and present...Atkinson injects wit even in the bleakest moments...yet never loses her razor-sharp edge."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "I can't take my nose out of Kate Atkinson's new thriller, Started Early, Took My Dog."—Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
  • "Mixing wry wit and gritty realism, Atkinson deftly smudges the border between literary and detective fiction-with complex, compelling characters negotiating a maze of grisly violence, dark secrets, and shadowy dangers."—Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "Wonderful...full of artful digressions and unexpected turns, but it amply makes good on its obligations as a mystery novel to explain the who, what and why." —Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
  • "Mold-breaking...Each one of these [Jackson Brodie] books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader's eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace. They are in some respects mystery novels, but they're written with a literary skill uncommon in that genre, and in a mode -- the tragicomic -- that few but the most adept novelists can pull off in any genre."—Laura Miller, Salon
  • Ms. Atkinson writes passages that simply have to be read twice, once when you first travel through the book and then later, when you want to see just how she tricked you...Ms. Atkinson remains a wonderful stylist and Grade A schemer...She was never confined to the crime genre, has written in assorted other modes and excels at them all. Whatever she goes on to write, she leaves Jackson Brodie at a suspenseful and pivotal moment. Future installments are well worth waiting for." —Janet Maslin, New York Times
  • "Every time I hear Kate Atkinson has a new novel on the way, I'm filled with delight. I look forward to many authors' books with pleasure and interest, but Atkinson is such a virtuoso that my brain starts fizzing like a glass of bubbly even before I crack the covers. Started Early, Took My Dog does not disappoint...A witty, moving, suspenseful and always surprising story about the things we do for love...Atkinson's books stake out their own territory on the border between mysteries and literary fiction. There are crimes in this book...but Atkinson is just as concerned with crimes of the heart, and with the unexpected consequences of good intentions. She layers plot and time periods with consummate skill, creating novels that work like elegant jazz improvisations, taking us onto amazing yet believable paths that eventually weave together into an even more astonishing result...Atkinson, as always, brings something fresh to [themes as old as storytelling].—Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times

On Sale
Mar 21, 2011
Publisher
Hachette Audio
ISBN-13
9781607886785

Kate Atkinson Headshot

Kate Atkinson

About the Author

Kate Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh.

She won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs. Her last novel, Life After Life, was the winner of the Costa Novel Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize, and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize. It was also voted Book of the Year for the independent booksellers associations on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new novel, A God in Ruins, is a companion to Life After Life, although the two novels can be read independently.

She was appointed MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and was voted Waterstones UK Author of the Year at the 2013 Specsavers National Book Awards.

Learn more about this author