Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story

by Leonie Swann
Doubleday, New York
Translated by Anthea Bell

You’ll never look at sheep the same way, ever again … .

This is a delightful novel. I have never seen my wife read a book a second time but this is one she did read a second time in a month — laughing out loud during both readings.

The story takes place in a small Irish town named Glennkill. It lies on the island’s coast and opens with a flock of sheep looking at the corpse of their shepherd, George, who is lying in the grass with a spade stuck through his heart and into the ground beneath it. They know he is dead because they can smell death, but they don’t know how it came about and so begins the investigation that they know they must do to find out who killed their shepherd and why.

Everything is a great mystery to them — especially regarding the humans who traipse in and out of their lives and of the peculiarities of the humans.

There is the butcher whom they hate and fear. They can smell death on him.

There is the man with the long nose who declares that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away — they immediately declare among their sheepish selves that the lord, whoever he is, killed George and that they wouldn’t want the lord as their shepherd. They later find out that this man must be the lord because he lives in God’s house — he must have killed George!

There is Beth, a woman who constantly visited George and talked to him about the Lord and gave him tracts which George would readily accept.  When Beth had gone, George would cook his food over a fire started with the tracts and eat his meal with gusto.

There is Rebecca — whom they like because she smells earthy and because she also smells like George and as any sheep knows, you can tell to whom a lamb belongs by their scent.

At one point, they hear the humans say that Satan has done this dastardly deed, but the sheep all agree that while Satan’s bray is very noisy and irritating, they couldn’t ever imagine that he would have killed George.  It turns out that Satan is the name that George tagged onto the donkey that inhabits the adjoining pasture.

The sheep decide they must gather facts — just like the people in the “Pamela” books that George read to them every day — to get to the bottom of the mystery. Oh, Yes … George read to them. Usually books about red-haired women named Pamela who entrap men with their wiles. The sheep’s fact-gathering expeditions took them several times into town to spy on what the two-leggeds were doing and saying and then report back to the flock what they had discovered.

Of course they are concerned about who is going to take care of them for a flock needs a shepherd and that all ends very satisfactorily, too. They gain a shepherdess who loves to read to them — not the “Pamela” type books — but books with hard covers that give a satisfying snap when closed — books like Wuthering Heights. She even promised to read Silence of the Lambs to them one day, which encouraged the ewes of the flock.

I just don’t know of any way that I can do justice to this book in a review. It is crazy and zany and in the convoluted way that the sheep think, it all hangs together until the end when we discover, along with the sheep, how their beloved shepherd came to his end.

Take my advice and get this book — you’ll find it a wonderful diversion from those you have been reading thus far — no matter what genre you frequent.

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