The Big Sheep
By Robert Kroese
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
To be clear, Robert Kroese's "phenomenological inquisitor" tale The Big Sheep is not much more than a well-written ripoff of Douglas Adams' "holistic detective" Dirk Gently novels, combined with the characterizations found in the cult movie The Zero Theorem and the alt-history universe-building of a typical "slow apocalypse" science-fiction book. But I happen to love the witty and smart Dirk Gently novels; and given that Adams died several years ago and won't be writing any more of them, I've got no problem at all with Kroese taking up the slack and putting out books nearly identical in both spirit and tone.
Set in a version of the 2030s that has already seen a cataclysmic event in America come and go, it has left behind a tougher and weirder Los Angeles that among other things now contains flying cars (since the old highways of pre-apocalypse LA are no longer navigable), as well as giant sections of the city that have essentially been walled off like Escape From New York and are their own anarchic demilitarized zones, the subject of the newest wave of popular gritty TV shows within an entertainment industry that has been permanently commingled with the journalism industry, so that there's virtually no difference any longer between the two. It's within such a setting that we follow the adventures of metaphysical private investigator Erasmus Keane, as well as his tough but perpetually bewildered assistant Blake Fowler, as they simultaneously take on cases of an intelligent sheep that's been kidnapped from a top-secret genetics facility, and a teenage TV star who's become convinced that someone is out to kill her, the two investigations slowly revealing their complicated connections as the story reaches its absurdist, violent conclusion.
To be fair, there are some problems with the novel, which is why it isn't getting a higher score than it is today; the characterizations are a bit inconsistent from one chapter to the next, there's way too much telling over showing, and the book simply isn't as funny as Kroese seems to think it is. But that said, I was thoroughly charmed by the ridiculous machinations that fuel this novel's day-after-tomorrow storyline, the premise getting more and more preposterous and convoluted with each passing chapter; and in general it was a fast and always entertaining page-turner that will immensely satisfy fans of bizarro literature, as well as those who like the wackier side of science-fiction (think Terry Pratchett). The first of what looks like is going to be an entire series of Keane/Fowler adventures, I certainly would not mind a franchise being made out of these two engaging and memorable characters; and while this first volume doesn't exactly come recommended to all, certainly those who enjoy the kind of novels I just described should pick it up with no delay.
Out of 10: 8.3