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Climbing the bestseller list: Kate Atkinson's 'Started Early, Took My Dog'

April 5, 2011 |  8:30 am

StartedearlytookmydogThe other day when I called my sister, I interrupted her reading, and like inquisitive reporters and nosy sisters are wont to do, I asked what she was reading. A book by Kate Atkinson, she told me, so I asked if it was the new book by Kate Atkinson. "There's a new book by Kate Atkinson?" she asked.

Yes, there is. It's called "Started Early, Took My Dog" and it's on the L.A. Times bestseller list this week, where it debuted at No. 14 in hardcover fiction.

"Started Early, Took My Dog" is the fourth of Atkinson's novels to feature private investigator Jackson Brodie. But as if to signal that it's going to be a mystery of a different sort, it takes its slightly odd title from a poem by Emily Dickinson.

When the book came out in England last year, the Guardian gave it a strong review, seeing a shift in Atkinson's tone:

The wonder of Atkinson's novels has been their joie de vivre, extraordinary given the high incidence of violent death. An irrepressible exuberance shines throughout, as well as a reliance on coincidence and resistance to neat resolution, both of which run counter to the standard pleasures of the crime genre. However, parts of Started Early, Took My Dog are bitterly bleak, world-weary and almost elegiac in tone, conscious of approaching ends as well as mysterious beginnings.

"I've always loved mysteries," Atkinson told the Telegraph in 2004, when she published her first Jackson Brodie book, "Case Histories." Stephen King said that book was "not just the best novel I've read this year, but the best mystery of the decade."

Now, years later, Atkinson is considering letting Jackson Brodie go. "The fact is, I feel completely written out about Jackson," she told the Scotsman in August. "But I felt I had to bring him to the point where I could leave him for a while. I need some new structural device -- I know readers say you should marry him off or something, but I need more than that: something you can hang a plot on."

"I might not be writing about Jackson any more," she continued. "Well, not for a while anyway." But then she dropped a tantalizing idea -- she's considering writing a noir-y book of Jackson Brodie in America.

Don't remember Emily Dickinson's poem "I Started Early - Took my Dog"? It's after the jump.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

I started Early – Took my Dog –

by Emily Dickinson

I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates –
in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –