In The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon transports the reader back in time with a visceral sense of moment. It’s 1976 and England is sweltering in what was to become an infamous heat wave, with standpipes in the streets and tempers boiling over. But the hottest topic on The Avenue is not the soaring temperatures but the sudden disappearance of Mrs Creasy.
Will she, as her husband tells everyone, just return or has she met an untimely end? After all, she was a friend to many in the neighbourhood; a keeper of secrets. But that’s not the only drama being played out. What is the secret that binds together a group of residents? What happened to the missing infant all those years ago? Was a recent fire a question of arson? And why is Walter Bishop an outcast?
Our guide through the neighborhood intrigue is 10-year-old Grace and her devoted BFF, the slightly awkward and sickly Tilly. From page one, where we first meet her, Grace is revealed as engaging, worldly wise, and given to often amusing observations. After an unintentional misdirection by the local priest, the girls set out to solve the mystery of the missing Mrs Creasy by looking for God in each house on their housing estate. The action comes thick and fast. There’s scarcely a chapter where a revelation creates as many questions as it answers. You need to pay attention.
Cannon conjures up the period perfectly: women drank Babycham, kids bounced around on Space Hoppers and tucked into treats of Angel Delight (a lurid, pink, ultra sweet confection). Teenage girls read Jackie and sighed over the fashion and pop star pin-ups, the men downed a pint at the British legion and everyone tuned in to the telly to watch Are You Being Served on a Monday, The Good Life on Tuesday and The Generation Game on Saturday.
Alongside the powerful evocation of England in the 1970s, the humour, and the perkiness, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a delightful, perceptive novel about the tragedies that exist within ordinary families and communities; of how prejudices, gossip and misunderstandings can lead to unhappiness and occasionally tragedy. And of the importance of true friendship.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is the debut novel by Joanne Cannon and published by HarperCollins.