Started Early, Took My Dog is Kate Atkinson’s eighth major work of fiction and the fourth to feature the thoughtful detective Jackson Brodie, who first appears in the critically acclaimed Case Histories, which was adapted for a BBC TV series earlier this year.

Slowly but surely the character Atkinson created has built up a loyal fanbase and now follows in the footsteps of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus as the latest UK-based investigator to be cerebral and cultured, although all three come from different backgrounds. Jason Isaacs played Brodie in the BBC adaptation. Filming for a second series is due to start in 2012.

In the latest outing for the former detective turned private eye, Brodie is visiting the city of Leeds to research a client’s family history when he gets caught up in the case of an abducted child.

In what I thought was rather an implausible plot driver, shopping centre security manager Tracy Waterhouse steps in and buys – yes buys – a girl aged about four called Courtney when she sees her being harshly treated by a woman passing through the centre.

Waterhouse offers the woman £3,000 and she accepts the deal with astonishing alacrity but Waterhouse does nothing to establish if the woman is Courtney’s mother or not.

The security manager takes the child home and the plot starts to thicken.

Two witnesses to the unlikely child-for-cash exchange in the Merrion Centre are Tilly, an elderly actress, who is getting so confused that she struggles to find her way back to her car, and Brodie, who has returned to his home county to try to help someone else find their roots.

All three characters soon have to come to terms with the fact that the past can never be considered completely over and doing someone a good deed may not necessarily have the desired effect.

Atkinson carefully builds the tension by revealing the action from different points of view.

The lost child plot device is certainly a good way of building tension rapidly but I personally believe there should be a new EU law banning all thrillers featuring lost children or serial killers because there are now far too many of them around.

Fortunately, Atkinson has such an arresting and original writing style it doesn’t matter too much that she has chosen such a hackneyed fictional scenario.

Thankfully, Jackson Brodie is such a complex character that he makes Started Early, Took My Dog well worth reading.

Atkinson now feels so close to her bestselling creation she has put together iTunes compilations that Brodie has supposedly created and these are linked on her website to each of the novels he features in.

The title of her latest Brodie story is taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson, a poet Brodie has recently discovered, and the novel ends with another Dickinson poem, Hope.

On her website Atkinson gives her readers a clue about how she came to create the detective, writing: “The challenge for me was not to make a detective but to make a detective who was reasonably three-dimensional.

“And I think I worked from the outside in.

“I always say that Jackson Brodie is really a woman because obviously he still has my sensibility in some ways, and I think that is why he is popular with women because he’s a woman in male disguise.

“That’s why he has a lot of male attributes and accoutrements and he’s good at fighting and likes gadgets and all of those things because I had to disguise the fact that really he’s me.”

The Author KATE Atkinson was born in York and now lives in Edinburgh.

Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which came out in the mid-1990s, won the Whitbread Book of the Year award, and the author has been a critically acclaimed best-selling writer ever since.

Ms Atkinson is the author of the short story collection Not the End of the World, and the novels featuring introspective detective Jackson Brodie.

He is first introduced in the novel Case Histories, set in Cambridge.

Then he appears in One Good Turn, which is set in Edinburgh, then in When Will There Be Good News? and he returns in the latest novel, Started Early, Took My Dog.

Ms Atkinson prefers to keep her private life something of a mystery, revealing few personal details on her superb website, but it is understood that she is twice divorced.

However, in her publicity material she is prepared to confirm that she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List earlier this year.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson is published by Black Swan, priced £7.99, but you can get it for half price at Waterstones in Oxford and Witney with the voucher in the Oxford Mail .