Book Review: The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (June 28, 2016)
Length: 320 pages
I had a feeling I was really going to enjoy this book. A light, breezy read with a wildly entertaining premise, The Big Sheep deserves high marks for humor and excellent characterization, plus major bonus points for creativity. This was a truly unexpected but enjoyable sci-fi mystery which reminded me very strongly of Sherlock Holmes, with shades of Philip K. Dick and a nice heavy injection of bizarre twists.
It is the year 2039, and our story takes place in Los Angeles, opening with our main character Blake Fowler and his business partner, the great detective—er, I mean, the great “phenomenological inquisitor”—Erasmus Keane, investigating into a case about a missing sheep. But this sheep isn’t any ordinary sheep. Mary, as the wooly ruminant is called, stands about as tall as a grown man, weighs 300 pounds, and was specifically bioengineered by a genetic research company for an uncanny purpose. And now she has been stolen, presumably by a rival company for her secrets.
But Keane and Fowler aren’t so sure, especially when it’s clear that the company isn’t telling them the whole truth. The waters are further muddied when another case shows up on their office doorstep in the form of Priya Mistry, the hottest TV star in the country, who has come to hire the duo because she suspects someone is trying to kill her. Her evidence is a mysterious note sent to warn her, signed “Noogus”, the name of her childhood teddy bear. At first, Fowler is skeptical, thinking that the beautiful young celebrity has come unhinged or is just being paranoid, mistaking the usual attention for something more sinister. However, it soon becomes clear that something much stranger is going on, when Priya starts exhibiting troubling behavior like memory loss and confusion. Fowler and Keane do their best to protect her while also juggling the case of the stolen sheep, eventually coming to the realization that the two cases might have more to do with each other than they thought.
I’m so glad that I went into this book without knowing much more beyond the publisher’s description. It was a lot of fun discovering all of its unique charms and merits. As sci-fi novels go, The Big Sheep was very readable, and at first glance, it might even seem like your typical light and fluffy fare (I swear, no pun intended) but ultimately a number of deeper themes started emerging. Not to give away too much, but as with many of the works that inspired this book, you can expect to see some existentialist questions explored in here, as well as thought-provoking discussions of ethics in science and technology. Definitely not something I expected when I first picked up this book, which I thought would be a pretty standard detective story, about the hunt for a missing giant sheep no less.
The world-building is also fantastic. Though we don’t get to venture much outside Los Angeles where the bulk of this story takes place, what Robert Kroese does show us of the setting is extraordinary and well-constructed. His world of 2039 Los Angeles is a surreal place, a city still trying to recover from a catastrophic event called the Collapse which happened a little more than ten years ago. The disaster caused a big section of LA to be cordoned off, creating an area called the Disincorporated Zone where law, order, and infrastructure swiftly degenerated. After a while it became clear to government that the only way forward was to cut its losses, so the DZ was officially disowned by the city, creating a district that is separate from any other jurisdiction. In spite of this, the people who were inside the DZ before the Collapse managed to survive, living under crime bosses who are constantly vying for power.
I had a good time with the characters as well, enjoying Fowler’s personality and snarky narration. He is essentially the Watson to Erasmus Keane’s Sherlock Holmes, hired on by investigator to be his tether to reality. Keane is portrayed as something of a savant, but virtually hopeless in social interactions or any situation requiring a gunfight, which is why Fowler also provides security services and protection. The two of them have a very interesting relationship, which makes for great dialogue as well as a number of downright hilarious scenes.
Of course, at the heart of this novel is a mystery, and the duo intrigues of the missing sheep and paranoid TV star cases were what kept me reading. Even as the investigation went from ordinary to insane, I enjoyed following the clues and watching the brilliant Keane piece the whole puzzle together. I do appreciate a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, touching briefly upon heavy topics while still endeavoring to be entertaining. Comedic elements are also handled deftly, so that the humor never became too campy.
All in all, The Big Sheep was a pleasure to read. I picked it up expecting a straightforward sci-fi detective story, but instead I got pulled into this genuinely fun and bizarre tale filled with humor and wild twists, which nonetheless tackled some deeper themes. Given the way the final chapter ended, there’s a good chance this is intended to be the first book of a series, and from what I’ve seen of the creative world-building and excellent characters, I can already see the potential for more great sequels.