Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson is an excellent novel, the kind that you almost wish would not end. It has complex characters, some mostly likable, most mostly not. It is set in England. The plot lines are intricately intertwined. The author inserts allusions to writings classical, medieval, and modern, including Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Willie Nelson. Jackson, a main character is a retired police officer, currently a private eye. Tracy is a retired female police officer, currently a mall security guard. Their paths cross repeatedly but their contact is very limited and unsatisfactory for both. The book deals with love, hate, kindness, greed, cruelty, murder, prostitution, good cops and bad cops, and how each is affected, often tragically by randomness and misunderstanding.
The author notes parallels between the roles of police officer and mother, each committed to a schedule of "sleep, eat, protect, repeat." Tracy "buys" a child to whom she becomes totally devoted, and Jackson's attachment to a "rescue" dog is comparable. Both show kindness and love for the previously abused.
Tracy takes the child to a playground on their first day together where the child "was astonishingly reckless. A kid without reck was a dangerous thing." Later, "Courtney had knitted herself into Tracy's soul. What would happen if she was ripped away? This was love. It didn't come free, you paid in pain. Your own. But then nobody ever said love was easy. Well, they did, but they were idiots." Atkinson can write with sensitivity. She also describes some gruesome murder scenes. She tells about human mistakes that produce tragic consequences. This is no "chicks' book" by any means. It is a well-written novel for the serious reader.
Two of the novel's best characteristics are also the elements which will turn off some readers. There are many characters, perhaps too many, especially police officers. The book is probably better suited to the e-book format which permits the reader to search quickly for a character's prior appearance. The narrative is not linear. In fact one gets the impression that the typesetter (or whoever does a similar chore these days) dropped the manuscript and picked up and printed the pages randomly. It is sometimes a challenge to try to figure out where the action is occurring and what the characters' motivations are. The challenge is justified. STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG is worth the effort.