Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #48, Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann
“Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, Three bags full.” -English nursery rhyme
Three Bags Full is exactly what it says in the subtitle: a sheep detective story. It’s an enjoyable little caper, about a flock of sheep who stumble upon their shepherd with a spade through his chest, and endeavor with some difficulty to solve his murder.
Bad news first: as a detective story, this isn’t the best. The resolution isn’t satisfying in that all-loose-ends-tied, Agatha Christie sort of way. There are some ends that remain very loose, and the motivations of the murder are never entirely clear. That having been said, if you pick up this book for a tightly paced thriller, than you probably came to the wrong place. The appeal of Three Bags Full is, as it should be, in the mammalian voices of its narrators.
The flock narration is a clever convention, and it’s what makes the story so charming. Sheep, after all, are not known for being the world’s smartest creatures. No one’s going to make an animated Sherlock Holmes knock-off with a sheep as a stand-in for the famous detective (they’re going to use a mouse, obviously). The fickle motivations of the woolly Irish flock are a pleasure to read—they’re constantly battling their sheepy urges to graze and sleep, and not worry about the fate of their shepherd’s murderer. Moreover, each sheep has its own distinct set of foibles, personality traits, and personal motivations. There’s a former circus sheep with a painful past, a Miss Marple-like old ewe tasked with the dubious role of keeping the flock focused, a senile old ram and his mysterious twin brother, and my personal favorite, a wistful ewe with a penchant for heights, who thinks that clouds are just sheep that have conquered the abyss and longs to do the same.
The story hardly matters. The shepherd dies, and the sheep suspect each of the eccentric townspeople in turn: the dreaded butcher, the sinister priest, the eerie Bible-thumping spinster, the suspicious competing shepherd, and the bright young stranger, before ultimately solving the mystery and absurdly trying to clue the townspeople in (the scene in which they manage to convey what happened to the town is eye-rollingly absurd; I could get behind the rest of the books whimsical absurdities, but this was a step too far for me). All in all, Three Bags Full is a fun romp; it won’t change your life, but as an interlude between depressing books, you can’t go wrong.
Recommended for: former Agatha Christie lovers who also enjoy sheep and quirky Irish comedy
Read when: you have a serious literature hangover
Listen with: jaunty film scores with Irish undertones. The score of Waking Ned Devine would work, if you could find it.