Set in the long hot summer of 1976, ten year olds Grace and Tilly decide to investigate when their neighbour Mrs Creasy goes missing. The avenue they live in is simmering and its inhabitants become increasingly more paranoid under the oppressive summer heat. Behind the closed doors of this seemingly respectable group of homes, secrets fester and two young amateur detectives set out to solve a mystery.
Joanna Cannon’s book looks at the secrets adults hide behind and is told from the point of view of her two young heroines. For me Tilly and Grace seem set to become classic characters, ‘literary heroines’, because they give what is a funny and yet dark tale in places, a sense of innocence, which captured my heart and made me think back to my own childhood and the adventures we had. She manages to highlight the often bizarre behaviour of their parents and neighbours while capturing the charm of childhood innocence and sense of adventure.
This book held a particular charm for me as I was a nine year old child during that long hot summer of 1976. I remember the way it seemed to stretch on forever and how the days were spent playing or reading, it was a time when the world seemed smaller and more contained in my own world. I had the same level of imagination as Grace and Tilly and a longing to find adventure and mystery in the word around me, fed by reading childhood classics such as the Famous Five, The Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mysteries. Adults and their world was often an impregnable mystery and so A Trouble With Goats and Sheep spoke to me. Its obvious charm and mentions of childhood favourites such as Angels Delight transported me back to that summer, when I was still held in the thrall of a simpler childhood world.
The suspense of wondering if Mrs Creasy would be found is built up throughout the novel with great skill. You can feel the tension building between the pages and as adults and children alike struggle under the oppressive heat Grace’s parents and neighbour’s become increasingly more paranoid. Panic sets in as secrets they have buried risk being discovered and lives changed forever. Yet alongside this we have a beautiful portrayal of childhood innocence. Seeing all this through Tilly and Grace’s point of view, allows us all to engage with the child within us all and that is a precious gift from a very talented author.
Its a stunning debut and I’m sure that Joanna Cannon has a very glittering future ahead of her.