George Glenn has more than three bags, and they are not full of sheep wool. Could this be why there is a garden tool sticking out of his dead body? To his sheep, it looks as if George was stabbed with a spade. The lead ram, Sir Ritchfield, bleats, “He didn’t die of an illness. Spades are not an illness.” George’s sudden (and odd) death doesn’t make sense to the sheep – they don’t understand why this happened. There are now questions to be answered and justice to be served, and it’s the sheep that are going to do it.
A shepherd living in Glennhill, Ireland, George wasn’t a sheep’s idea of a perfect shepherd – he owned a sheepdog, he docked a sheep tail once, and (his worst offense) he wore foreign wool. He did make his sheep happy, though, with interesting stories and good food. When the sheep find George’s body, they feel an immediate responsibility to find the killer. Being sheep, one of their first worries upon seeing the lifeless body is, “Who’s going to bring us hay now?” But they soon get past this concern and start an investigation that involves eavesdropping, hiding “key” evidence and lots of acting naturally. Acting naturally involves grass eating and standing around, easy things to do for a sheep – except when the butcher named Ham is around.
Sheep detecting involves many skills. The sheep use their noses to detect emotions and identify people, and they rely on Mopple the Whale’s highly evolved sheep memory for conversation facts and past observations. However, the sheep they turn to the most is Miss Maple. Although she is the most intelligent sheep in the flock, she used to be a sneaky toast-licker. This maple syrup-loving sheep is the one that gets the sheep further into the investigation and closer to the truth.
Sometimes a tasty garden or a window-box full of flowers sidetracks a sheep or two, but for the most part, they are very devoted to the investigative tasks at hand. When they do need extra comfort, they turn to story memories or a quick snuggle with a nearby fleecy body. One sheep, though, turns elsewhere: Zora dreams of being up in the sky with the cloud sheep.
There is only so much a sheep can do to help this murder investigation along, but it takes a huge leap forward when Melmoth comes home after a long absence, his appearance causing quite a commotion amongst the flock. He is the one that teaches the sheep how to pay attention and how to face their fears. He is also the sheep that captures the audience’s attention at the Smartest Sheep in Glennkill Contest, where the sheep reveal to the villagers all they know about George’s murder. They can only hope the audience will respond.
There is a mystery behind George’s death, but there’s also mystery behind George’s caravan door, the hoof print on his body, the ghost seen by the nameless lamb, and the neighbouring flock of sheep. The reading of George’s will brings some relief to a few characters in the book, but it also brings someone new into the flock’s life – and, luckily, they read to sheep, too.
Leonie Swann has moved sheep into a new genre. After I finished reading this book, I thought it’s obvious sheep have talents beyond the world of nursery rhymes. Three Bags Full is a murder mystery, but it’s also a story about George’s kindness, craziness, and ultimately, his loneliness.
The author’s research for Three Bags Full involved using the library, moving to Ireland, dedicating time to fieldwork and observation, and consulting with a sheep expert. Three Bags Full is Leonie Swann’s first book. She has worked in journalism and public relations, and she holds degrees in philosophy, psychology and communications. To win a copy of this book, be the sixteenth reader to email [email protected]