by Robert Kroese
(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)
Tech rating (out of 5):
Publication date: June 28, 2016
Category: Science fiction noir mystery/suspense with a touch of snark
Summary (from the publisher):
Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.
But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.
I first discovered author Robert Kroese when his independently published science thriller Schrodinger’s Gat came to me for review in 2013. I loved it and am kicking myself for not reading more of Kroese’s work (an ebook of his novel Starship Grifters languishes on my computer–so many books, so little time). Kroese is now a hybrid author; his new release is published by Thomas Dunne Books, one of the big players in the publishing world. I gave The Big Sheep a try and was totally hooked by the end of chapter one.
The Big Sheep is science fiction, set in a mildly dystopian (but quite recognizable) future Los Angeles. It’s also a mystery/suspense novel that shamelessly pays tribute to both LA noir crime fiction (Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep) and to Sherlock Holmes. By adapting those influences to SciFi, The Big Sheep is fresh and original.
Absurdity and humor (including moments when I laughed out loud) begin in the opening scene at a laboratory where we meet Erasmus Keane, self-described “phenomenological inquisitor” whose quirkiness and brilliance are a clear tribute to a Holmes-like private investigator. We see everything through the point of view of Keane’s Watson-like sidekick, Blake Fowler. Fowler’s voice carries the novel. He’s loyal, sensible, capable, snarky at the right times, and a force of sanity in Keane’s life. Like Watson, he also makes a good foil for Keane to show how clever he is. Heart and brain, these two make a great team.
The plot gets going when Keane and Fowler are visited by Priya Mistry, LA’s hottest starlet. In possibly my favorite scene of the whole book, Fowler is discombobulated by Mistry’s charisma while the oddly distracted young woman describes her fear that someone is trying to kill her. Questions abound as Keane and Fowler are drawn into a web of media powerhouses, warlords, scientists, and of course, sheep. Kroese’s storyline unfolds unpredictably and with plenty of delight. The author builds an interesting future world and creates future science that extrapolates nicely from what’s real today. Multiple plot threads come together for a satisfying climax that emphasizes words and thoughts over gunplay and chases.
I love Kroese’s writing style. To give you a sense of what he does, here are a few quotes:
“There had been a lot of technological advancements in firearms over the past twenty years, from biometric authentication devices to smart bullets that could go around corners, but for my money nobody in the past hundred years had really improved on the basic idea of making a hunk of metal go really goddamned fast in a straight line.”
“After all, paranoia was just the flip side of narcissism: it’s a short walk from ‘everybody loves me’ to ‘everybody is out to get me.'”
“I felt like hugging her, but something told me that would be wildly inappropriate–not to mention logistically difficult, since she was hunched down in a chair on the other side of my desk.”
The Big Sheep is an innovative and entertaining blend of science fiction and detective story. Smart readers of genre fiction will love the buddy pair of Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler. With just enough snark and plenty of sheep jokes, Robert Kroese’s book will be a favorite for fans of Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.