"…proceed with caution. Watch out for goats in sheep’s clothing…"
The long hot summer of 1976 is legendary. But unlike most legends, this one is true. It was unbearably hot, unbelievably long, and reservoir-shrinkingly dry. There were standpipes in the streets; even the appointment of a Minister for Drought. If you’re old enough to remember that scorching summer you will, at the very least, be in your mid-40s. Even if you are too young, your parents will probably have bored you to tears with tales about it. I know we have ours.
But freak weather – especially British freak weather – can make for a wonderful backdrop to a story, and Joanna Cannon’s debut novel is painted on a bone-dry, sun-seared canvas.
Grace is 10 years old. Her neighbour and best friend, Tilly, will soon reach double figures too. Together they are about to infiltrate the world of the adults living in their street. They must. Because there is a mystery to be solved. A conundrum they believe only they can crack.
A neighbour, Mrs Creasy has gone missing. No one knows why, or where she might be. But people are worried. And not just for Mrs Creasy; for themselves. And what she knows about them.
And what she might reveal.
Cannon’s title rests on the Gospel of St Matthew, who taught that God had divided his flock into sheep, who were kind and served Him well, and goats, who lacked compassion and faith. It’s a clever quotation given the story that follows. But proceed with caution. Watch out for goats in sheep’s clothing…
"This is a wonderful interweaving of multiple mysteries."
This is a wonderful interweaving of multiple mysteries. Yes, at the heart of Cannon’s tale is Mrs Creasy’s sudden disappearance. But other unanswered questions about her neighbours gradually emerge. Something happened almost 10 years earlier. The kidnapping (albeit briefly) of a baby… a case of arson.. something that a tightly-knit group of neighbours did back in 1967 which none of them seems able to stop talking about – but never explicitly enough for us, the readers, to know exactly what they actually did.
But it clearly wasn’t a harmless game of whist in the church hall.
Grace and Tilly realise, with the deceptive intelligence of observant young children, that something is amiss. So they conduct door-to-door inquiries in the sweltering heat under the cover of working for their Brownie badges. They are also searching for God, after the local vicar told them that He is ‘everywhere’. What, even in their neighbours’ houses?
Neighbours such as Dorothy, bullied by her sinister husband, Eric.
Bryan, oppressed and controlled by his dominant mother.
And of course John Creasy, the missing woman’s husband. All of them holding secrets tightly to their chests.
The girls pick up muttered whisperings from the grown-ups in the church, the pub, and the library. What happened in their street? What is happening now? Where is Mrs Creasy, and what does she know? The sense of place and time is underwritten with plenty of 1970s allusions to Babycham, Jackie magazine, The Good Life, and Angel Delight.
Hmm. Angel Delight. Maybe that’s the real horror at the heart of this terrific story.
Here are a selection of the reviews for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
"Part whodunnit,part coming of age, this is a gripping debut about the secrets behind every door"
"A quirky, moving and beautifully written tale of suburban life in 1970s Britain…a delight from start to finnish"
"An utter delight. Perceptive, funny, dark, moving…I loved it"