I gave up on Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series because the second and third books were so dark it was painful to finish them. I so enjoyed her recent Life After Life, however, that I decided to go back and give Jackson another try. And Started Early, Took My Dog, despite involving numerous deaths (murders, accidents, suicides), child and animal abuse, dementia, family dysfunction, and buying and illegal adoption of children, is somehow less bleak.
Describing the plot of Started Early is difficult--there are numerous interlinked plots and characters. Jackson, now retired as both a cop and a PI, is nonetheless back in his home turf trying to find the biological parents of a woman, Hope McMaster, whose adoptive family moved to New Zealand when she was a toddler. As he begins to unravel the mystery of her origins, he stirs up a hornet's nest involving a 30-year-old case--the murder of a prostitute. Police officers and social workers seem to be implicated in the mystery of Hope's early life.
One of those police officers is Tracy Waterhouse, retired and working security at a mall. On the day Jackson arrives in Leeds, she spontaneously offers to buy a little girl being treated badly by yet another prostitute, Kelly Cross. Tracy finds herself on the run from a variety of mysterious pursuers, including Jackson, who quickly identifies her as a potential source of information on Hope's case.
There are numerous other characters and plot lines--Jackson rescues a dog; Tracy's former partner Barry deteriorates as he deals with the fall-out from the old case as well as the aftereffects of an accident that killed his grandson and left his daughter in a vegetative state; and an aging actress with dementia stumbles into events like Queen Elizabeth playing Forrest Gump.
While Hope's story is largely resolved, the book ends with other questions unanswered--for example, who is the child Tracy bought from Kelly (it appears she is not Kelly's child)? Who killed Kelly Cross? These unsolved mysteries are a bit frustrating, but overall I found Started Early an entertaining mystery.