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Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story    by Leonie Swann order for
Three Bags Full
by Leonie Swann
Order:  USA  Can
Flying Dolphin Press, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mystery authors are always looking for new twists, ways to push the envelope. Leonie Swann has found a good one here. In Three Bags Full, the detectives are a flock of sheep, all with different talents and personalities, grazing on 'the greenest, richest pasture in all Ireland.' Their investigation is led by Miss Maple, 'the cleverest sheep in all Glennkill.' Unhappy about the death of their affable shepherd George Glenn (who regularly read to them) they're determined to find the killer. After all, murder is 'wolfish behavior'.

Like Nero Wolfe, they don't get around very much, but suspects show up regularly on their hillside (near the Irish village of Glennkill), where the sheep spend their days grazing, ruminating, digesting clues, and dealing with a myriad of ongoing distractions. Along with Miss Maple, key investigators include aging and forgetful lead ram Sir Ritchfield; gourmand Mopple the Whale who never forgets and is called the memory sheep; black ram Othello who has a murky, troubled past; and horned ewe Zora who has an excellent head for heights. They're joined later in the story by a legendary prodigal who knows his way around and utters wisdom like 'You won't be able to herd anyone until you can herd yourself'.

Suspects include Ham the butcher whom the sheep fear and hate, a charismatic shepherd named Gabriel, and a long-nosed preacher whom the animals mistake for God. Miss Maple wonders about the sheep's hoofprint on the corpse's stomach and the men in stocking masks, why everyone is so keen to get into George's caravan, and who the woman in red is. The sheep wander farther afield in pursuit of clues, eavesdropping through windows and even entering the church. Miss Maple pulls it all together at the Smartest Sheep in Glennkill contest, and the sheep get their pictures in the paper. Three Bags Full is great fun, especially in its sheepish ruminations on human behavior.

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