cover image The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Joanna Cannon. Scribner, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2189-0

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)