I should have reviewed this a few weeks ago when the book came out. But – and this should make you very happy, dear readers – just because I’m a bit late for the publication hype doesn’t mean the book isn’t still out there for you to pick up. I definitely think you should, and not just for the sheep on the cover (which is probably 50% to blame for me being interested in the book in the first place).
THE BIG SHEEP
by Robert Kroese
Published by: St. Martin’s Press, June 2016
Ebook: 320 pages
Standalone (so far)
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: “That’s a really big sheep,” said Erasmus Keane, his observational powers functioning as flawlessly as ever.
Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.
But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.
Sherlock Holmes meets Blade Runner. There, that’s all you need to know. Except wait, there’s more here than just a couple of detectives solving a case in futuristic Los Angeles. Although it does start as a your average find-the-missing-genetically-manipulated-sheep story, it soon turns into something bigger. Keane is a genius (clearly the Sherlock of the team), but it is Fowler who tells the story and it was also him that I immediately liked and wanted to follow. They obviously have a Sherlock/Watson thing going on, but even more than the “real” Sherlock Holmes, I found Keane to be emotionally cold, distant, and not particularly likeable.
In addition to their missing sheep case, the two are also visited by super famous TV star Priya Mistry who may just suffer from celebrity paranoia. Or there may actually be something strange going on in her life. After all, this is the future and Los Angeles is mostly ruled by warlords – believing yourself in danger, especially if you’ve just received a warning note penned by your childhood teddy bear, is not such a far-fetched idea.
What I really liked in this book, after the slightly slow first chapter, was the pacing. It was constantly spot on. Robert Kroese doesn’t spend too many pages on unimportant stuff, say getting from point A to point B. Instead, the focus lies on figuring out these two mysteries that – surprise! – seem to be connected somehow. Fowler’s narration of this fast-paced story also added just the right amount of snark, although I didn’t find this to be a particularly funny book in general. At least not the laugh-out-loud kind of fun. The humor arises more naturally from the bizarre situations and conversations that occur when you’re dealing with a wild sheep hunt and a gorgeous celebrity.
I really enjoyed how the author kept me guessing all the time. At one point, I thought I had figured everything out and the book seemed to agree with me, but then I turned the page and Keane schooled me and my inferior brain and told me just why all my conclusions were wrong. I’ll forgive him because I am totally okay with not being able to guess endings. It made the second half of the book even more exciting, as things are revealed slowly and then all at once. I will say no more about the plot because it was definitely the book’s strongest point and I don’t want to spoil all the crazy surprises for you.
Another interesting aspect is the world-building. It isn’t super extensive, but gives you just enough to be intrigued and to set up the place that Keane and Fowler live in. The Disincorporated Zone, or DZ, has a noir-ish but at the same time futuristic feel to it. You get the sense that a lot of crime happens there (and we do witness some of it) but at the same time, Keane and Fowler navigate LA so effortlessly that I was never worried anything would happen to them. The sciency aspects add to the book’s flair although there is much handwavium used to explain stuff. I personally don’t mind magic dressed up as science (or bare naked magic for that matter) but if that’s something really important to you or you prefer hard science fiction, this won’t make you happy. I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief however and went with the gigantic sheep and other weird stuff that I can’t mention for spoiler reasons.
So, I am totally on board with this book series (will there be more?), mostly for the writing style and clever plot. The characters were cool at first glance but rather weak once you think about them. Fowler is introduced as the guy who endures the genius detective and keeps him somewhat grounded, he’s still hung up on his disappeared girlfriend, and other than that there isn’t much I could tell you about him. He’s competent and snarky and I really liked him in this story, but it doesn’t feel like these characters had a life before the book started. With the exception of Priya Mistry – and she is handled more like an object than a person. I found there was a lot of food for thought whenever it came ot Priya. You forget that celebrities are people, too. They aren’t there simply to look good and entertain the masses – and The Big Sheep makes this a pretty central idea.
The ending was… weird but also great. I loved the solution to the mysteries, although certain parts fell into place way too neatly and I believe Keane got off too easy – he did get into a lot of trouble on the way, after all. The one thing I didn’t like about the ending was the very cheap way it set up the sequel. I saw that bit coming from the very first chapter but I kind of hoped the author wouldn’t go with something so obvious, especially after such an original, fun plot. But I’ll forgive him because Fowler really grew on me and I can’t wait for more crazy mystery solving.
The Big Sheep gave me a few wonderful hours of reading. I giggled, I rolled my eyes at Keane’s superiority, I adored the sheep, and I completely failed at guessing the solution. Well done, where’s the next book?
MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!