The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Reminiscent of Scout Finch with shades of Flavia de Luce, 10-year-olds Grace and Tilly spend the sweltering summer of 1976 investigating two mysteries: What happened to their neighbor Mrs. Creasy, and where does one find God? Joanna Cannon's debut, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, is set on a small British cul-de-sac, but its themes are universal.

As "the heat poured itself over the country," bold Grace and shy Tilly strike out each day determined to interview the neighbors for clues. " 'What about Margaret Creasy, then?' someone would say. And it was like firing a starting pistol."

A visit to church yields more confusion: If God is everywhere, why hasn't he found Mrs. Creasy? Might finding Him lead to her? While the guileless sleuths are unaware of the town's dark secret, flashback chapters reveal a night in 1967 that residents recall but never discuss, and their long-held fears provoke warnings: don't go near Number 11, nor the reclusive Mr. Bishop. The girls' fearless commitment (and the delightful plot point of Tilly seeing an image of Jesus in a drainpipe, prompting a festive community-bonding vigil) eventually takes them to Number 11, and forces everyone to examine long-hidden truths.

Quirky characters, playful language (one woman is "dressed in alternating layers of taupe and concern") and humor offset the mystery's tension. The child detectives may have gotten themselves into more than they bargained for, but their adventure leads their street toward closer community and the novel to an upbeat conclusion. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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