Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting premise, good second half, great writing
Cons: Too many (underdeveloped) characters, slow start, religious characters
The Bottom Line:
Different premise
But poorly executed
I hoped to enjoy

Three Bags Almost Full

Okay, I confess.  Most of the mysteries I read are fairly similar, especially on the surface level.  That's why I couldn't pass up Three Bags Full when I heard about it.  This book stars a flock of sheep as the detectives.  Intrigued, I sat down.  While the story had some fun moments, it didn't live up to its promise.

When the sheep awoke that morning, they discovered their beloved shepherd dead with a spade sticking out of him.  Horrified, they are at a loss for what to do.  But then they decide to investigate.

And it will take all of them.  There's Mopple the Whale with his perfect memory, Maude with the best sense of smell, Sir Ritchfield the head ram, Othello, the black sheep (literally) with a mysterious past, and Miss Maple, the most clever sheep in the Irish village of Glennkill and possibly the world.

Fortunately for the sheep, the villagers seem fascinated with George's shack and keep coming to the meadow to find a way into it.  Combine that with trips into town, and the sheep begin to get some clues.  But can they work them into the correct solution?

A fact I found odd: while set in an Irish village, the book was originally written in German.  Since I read an English translation, it means nothing.  I just found it fun.

And I found moments in the book fun, too.  The sheep think they are quite the superior species to humans, and those moments always make for a laugh.  Plus they don't truly get human culture.  They are convinced that the local priest is really God (he lives in God's house, after all).  And they don't get why the humans are so concerned with getting the grass from George's shack when there is so much growing outside the shack.

The story moved forward very slowly, especially in the beginning.  Instead, the time is spent trying to develop the large cast of characters or give us a sheep's eye view of the world.  Some of that went a long way for me.  In the second half, the story really did pick up, and I got more into it.

Speaking of the characters, there are just too many of them.  There are 18 sheep in the flock alone, although at times I felt there were supposed to be more.  While only five of six are important to the story, we still have to remember who all of them are.  Yes, there is a cheat sheet in the front for the sheep, but even when a book has those; I usually get the feel for the characters by the end.  That didn't happen with most of the sheep.

Then there are the humans.  Yep, on top of the sheep we have to remember the suspects.  Most of them are around for a page or two and then disappear for several chapters, making it almost impossible to remember who did what when.  Only one of them is truly fleshed out.

The timeline is also rather hard to follow.  I finally pieced things together near the end, but until them I couldn't tell how long ago some of the events were supposed to have taken place.

Finally in the negative column, the book took a rather negative view of the Christian characters, which didn't sit well with me at all.

The writing, on the other hand, was great.  The book really incorporated the senses of taste and smell well, something that is usually lacking in books.  The story is told from multiple character's points of view, yet I never had a hard time following who was the viewpoint character each time.  And whoever did the translation did a great job of making sure things flowed smoothly for this English speaker.

My main experience with the book came down to this.  When I was reading, I would get into the story and not want to put it down.  But when I had to put it down, I had a hard time picking it up again.

Despite my list of flaws, I did find parts of Three Bags Full enjoyable.  It just wasn't the home run I expected it to be.  Instead, it was only average.

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