Review – Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

Three Bags Full by Leonie SwannTitle: Three Bags Full
Series: Sheep Detective Story #1
Author: Leonie Swann
Publisher: Doubleday
Rating: 3.5 stars

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Publication date: June 2005
Genre: Cozy mystery
Length: 352 pages

Review Summary: A fun and endearing slow-paced cozy mystery featuring a small flock of sheep as detectives.

Plot Summary/Blurb

When George Glenn of Glennkill on the coast of Ireland is found dead in a field, apparently murdered with a spade, his faithful flock of sheep don’t know what to think. Spurred on by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they try to recall what they learned in the detective story that George once read them, so they can gather clues and track down suspects.

Three Bags Full Review

This is such a cute idea! The sheep are wonderful characters and the story, if a little confused and slow in places, follows their meandering path as detectives.

The sheep are from different traditional breeds so it’s easy to believe they might have different characteristics. There’s Mopple the Whale, a plump Merino who never stops eating but has the best memory; Zora, a sure-footed blackfaced ewe who likes to perch on a cliff ledge looking over the abyss to the sea far below; Sir Ritchfield, the lead ram, who’s getting old and deaf these days but still has the sharpest eyesight; Othello, a black sheep whose had a past life in a circus; and many more. They all stand out as unique and memorable personalities.

Then of course there are the human characters. We get to hear their conversations whenever the sheep can listen in, which is often enough, since many of them visit the field and George’s caravan where he seems to have hidden certain things (whose significance is clearer to us than to the sheep). He was also more popular with the ladies than with the men of the village.

George’s character is slowly revealed too. The sheep, naturally enough, rate him on the basis of the grazing he provided and the stories that he read to them every day. It’s only when another shepherd comes along who is more interested in sheep as meat than as individuals, that they truly come to see how lucky they were. And we have to piece together George’s human history from indications that mean nothing to them – that he owned a gun, for example.

The author is German so I was reading an English translation, and unfortunately the translator clearly wasn’t Irish. I kept forgetting we were in Ireland at all because there was no Irish dialect or rhythm in the dialogue. There are none of the ‘typical’ Irish names – no Brendan, Patrick or Michael; no Bridget, Mary or Siobhan – and George, the patron saint of England, seems to me a decidedly unlikely name for a man born in the Republic of Ireland in (presumably) the 1960s. Of course we don’t want all the stereotypes rolled out, but a few minor characters with more common Irish names would have helped give a sense of place.

It’s very funny in places because of the sheep’s childlike (or sheeplike) interpretations of various signs and clues. They are simple-minded but logical and often adorable.

The solution to the mystery was a little anticlimactic for me. The motives didn’t quite ring true. But I did like the way the author built up the final scene and I loved Fosco who enjoyed his Guinness in true Irish style!

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