Literary mystery - that's how I've decided to describe Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series. Sure, genre labels don't matter but whenever I pick up a Jackson Brodie novel I can't help but think about what kind of book it is I'm reading. I mean, the first time I heard about Case Histories (the first book in the series) was in a review that described it as a mystery. These books were never shelved in the mystery section of my local bookstore, however, but rather could always be found in the general fiction section. I can understand why - the Jackson Brodie series is not like any other mystery series I've every read. Started Early, Took My Dog is, incidentally, the fourth entry in the series.
Describing the plot of a Jackson Brodie book is always daunting because there are always multiple characters with multiple story lines. Several of the story lines in Started Early, Took My Dog had to do with children and parenthood: missing children, women who never thought they would have children suddenly finding themselves with a child in their care, fathers coming to terms with being fathers, women and men welcoming new children into their lives or saying goodbye to them. There is a mystery of sorts - Jackson has been hired to find information about the birth parents of a woman in who was born in the U.K. but adopted as a two-year-old and then raised in New Zealand. The woman is pregnant and impending motherhood has her thinking about her own origin story and what she will be able to tell her children about their maternal ancestry.
One characteristic of this series is that Jackson Brodie, the private detective that ties the series together, is never quite in control or aware of all different stories happening in proximity to him. It is one reason why this series so good. Nothing happens in a vacuum. People are more than characters waiting around to help or hinder the detective solve his mystery. They have their own lives and their own problems. There are coincidences and random acts of kindness and cruelty. Jackson wanders in trying to solve case while others are trying to solve something else.
Kate Atkinson has written other, non-mystery books. Last year her novel Life After Life made a big splash in the world of books and reading. I haven't read that or any of her non-mystery novels but plan to soon. I hope this isn't the last Jackson Brodie story she writes because I have thoroughly enjoying reading this series.