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    Engaging Amateur Sleuths

    I enjoyed The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, which reminded me of Michael Frayn's Spies. Both books follow a pair of young friends as they play amateur sleuth, solving a mystery but simultaneously uncovering secrets the adults around them would have much preferred to remain hidden. In fact, the cover copy from my 2002 hardcover of Spies serves equally well as a summary of Cannon's novel: "In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, [The Trouble with Goats and Sheep] reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the ties of friendship, marriage, and family are threatened by cowardice[.] ... [Cannon] powerfully demonstrates ... that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can't see at all." This is not to say that Cannon's book is derivative; her pre-adolescent girl protagonists, particularly Grace, the first-person narrator of the story, have their own voices and their own sets of foibles and blind spots. Cannon's decision to present events from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Grace (rather than as the recollection of an adult Grace) is a wise one; while at least one reviewer has noted that Grace is smarter, more observant, and more well-spoken than your average ten-year-old, her point of view keeps the reader in the moment, puzzling out clues at the same time as Grace and Tilly and being carried along by their youthful momentum. There are other pleasures to be found here as well. Cannon writes perfect descriptions of such varied phenomena as early widowhood ("forced her to weave a life from other people's remnants"), terraced houses ("handcuffed families together through chance and coincidence), and the saccharine taste of certain childless older women: "I stared at the room. It looked as though someone might have served it into the house with an ice cream scoop. Even the things that weren’t pink had a mention of it, as if they hadn’t been allowed through the door without making a firm commitment." Fans of both literary fiction and mysteries (not that those categories are mutually exclusive) will find The Trouble with Goats and Sheep appealing. I received a free copy of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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