Ian Colford’s Reviews > The Trouble with Goats and Sheep








The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Read in January 2018

3 of 5 stars

It is June, 1976 in a small English town sweating through a record-setting heat wave. To the chagrin of everyone on The Avenue, Mrs. Creasy has gone missing. Where did she go? And why? Did she just up and leave? Has she been murdered? Is she coming back? These are the questions on everyone’s lips, and there is nobody more determined to solve the mystery than 10-year-old Grace and her friend and sidekick Tilly, who set out to uncover what happened to Mrs. Creasy, and in the process perhaps find God as well. Joanna Cannon’s poignant and cleverly amusing narrative follows Grace and Tilly as they pose as Brownies trying to augment their merit badge counts by helping out around the neighbourhood, and by means of this ruse gain access to houses up and down The Avenue in their search for clues. Not altogether surprisingly, what they mostly uncover are tawdry secrets and bad behaviour. Nine years earlier, in 1967, another disappearance shocked the neighbourhood, and a craving for quick justice led residents of The Avenue to take the matter into their own hands. Years later, enter Mrs. Creasy: a woman innocent of that piece of local history, but a familiar, helpful and nonjudgmental presence in every house on the street, someone in whom people suffering crushing guilt might find it easy to confide. As the novel progresses, the question that residents of long standing begin asking is How much does she know? Some are eager for her to return, others hope she’s gone for good. Joanna Cannon uses her psychiatric training to great advantage, populating an overheated English landscape with a group of ordinary people harbouring a terrible truth, some of whom are willing to go to great lengths to protect themselves from the shame of discovery. The result is a first novel that is psychologically astute and often very funny. Grace and Tilly are possibly the most guileless pair of amateur sleuths we are ever likely to encounter. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (the title is of Biblical origin) demonstrates the danger of acting on the assumptions we make about each other. It also asks some fascinating questions, such as: When tongues start wagging, is any secret really safe?