Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-16
- Reviewer: Staff
In her astute, engaging debut, Cannon uses the New Testament parable of the title (in which Jesus separates the good and evil on Judgment Day) to illustrate, wryly and with pinpoint accuracy, the righteous indignation and small-mindedness of a group of gossipy English suburbanites. The citizens ardently believe in their own goodness, and the evil of the man who lives at #11: Walter Bishop. It’s 1976, during the hottest summer anyone can remember, when Margaret Creasy disappears. Most think Walter killed Margaret, but it’s just as likely (or more) that someone else did; as everyone’s confidante, Margaret knew about the secret punishments the citizens inflicted on Walter. Ten-year-old Grace takes a different approach, taking a local vicar at his word when he promises that if her neighbors find God, no one will be lost. She and her best friend, Tilly, will hunt for God—undercover—among their neighbors to find Margaret. Cannon, a psychiatrist, builds her narrative by slowly revealing backstories as the girls conduct their search, and the pieces of an entirely different sort of mystery than the one under investigation cleverly come together. This is an insightful, offbeat mystery. Agent: Sue Armstrong, Conville and Walsh Literary (U.K.). (July)
A British suburb's dangerous secrets
In the Gospel of Matthew, God categorizes his flock as either obedient sheep, or goats who lack faith and compassion. But people are not so easily summed up in Joanna Cannon’s debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a gentle story about the damage done by the secrets we keep and the judgments we make.
The novel opens in the mid-1970s in a suburban British housing estate called the Avenue, on a blisteringly hot summer day. The disappearance of a local woman, Mrs. Creasy, has residents on high alert, and the rumors are flying. Grace, a precocious 10-year-old, and her best friend, Tilly, decide to investigate. They start with the vicar, who delivers a confusing sermon on the whereabouts of God. Given this start, the girls become certain that if they can locate the Almighty, Mrs. Creasy is sure to follow.
The spirited girls take their questions about faith from house to house, trying to make sense of the fragmented accounts and mixed messages they hear. What becomes clear to the reader, if not the girls, is that their neighbors are keeping a deadly secret—one that may have led to Mrs. Creasy’s departure.
The novel is told from the points of view of the innocent but perceptive Grace and six of her neighbors, including the absent-minded Dorothy; Brian, kept on a short leash by his overbearing mother; and John Creasy, the increasingly frantic husband of the missing woman. The Avenue, with its flawed but sympathetic characters living chockablock on the suburban street, is Cannon’s most successful creation, and one in which her insight into the problems of ordinary people is most persuasive. Part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep presents our complicated world with compassion and humor, seen through a child’s eyes.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with author Joanna Cannon about The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.