Thomas Dunne Books, 320 pages, $25.99
“The Big SHEEP” is not exactly noir in the fashion of Raymond Chandler's “The Big SLEEP,” but the setting is the dark side of L.A. And the protagonists are private eyes. Rather, Erasmus Keane is a “phenomenological inquisitor” and Blake Fowler is “Keane’s tether to mundane reality.”
The action takes place somewhere in a future Los Angeles in a United States that has suffered “The Collapse” — an economic catastrophe perhaps, but one in which many people died — and been reconstituted by state and federal governments. L.A. resembled the Wild West in its lawlessness before partial order was restored. But it was too late because some bad guys were already disguised by their corporate personas.
The Disincorporated Zone (DZ) was a desperate attempt to isolate part of Los Angeles. A wall was built (political coincidence noted) and contained whoever was unfortunate (i.e., the poor and disenfranchised) enough to live in the dangerous areas of L.A. John Carpenter already imagined what that world looks like in “Escape from L.A.,” so some of the work has been done for you.
Keane and Fowler are tasked with finding a missing sheep, a bi-i-i-g sheep, Mary, research darling of one of the shadiest of shady corporations, Esper Corp. There’s something about Mary, author Robert Kroese says, in this sci-fi, noirish work. She’s growing human-like organs for one thing. But there might be another anomaly. We just have to wait and see.
Although they don’t normally take on two cases at the same time — but what exactly is “normal” for this duo — Keane accepts Priya Mistry as another client. She is the young, charismatic, glamorous actress of a television (or whatever they have in its place) series, “DiZzy Girl,” set in the DZ. Someone is out to kill her, she says. As proof she shows them a warning note written by “Noogus.” Of course, it must be serious because Noogus was her best friend when she was a child. Noogus was her stuffed teddy bear. And that case only gets weirder when she develops selective amnesia and the P.I.s meet the strange and confused (and strangely confused) people who surround her.
About half way through the book, Kroese starts revealing the surprises. They come pretty frequently until the oh-no-that-didn’t-happen ending. Maybe this book was done tongue-in-cheek or as an allegory or as a provocative statement about the dysfunctional direction of U.S. politics. I took the book and the strange revelations contained at face value. Rather than elevate it to a theater of the absurd, I took it as a story about what it means to be human. (I guess that would make it allegorical.)
I realize the synopsis is rather vague, but I enjoyed how Korese unfolded one bizarre situation after another, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be surprised as well. Perhaps this will give you a hint about what kind of a book “The Big Sheep” is. Blake, the narrator, ruminates at one point:
It was never a good thing when a bad guy started quoting Nietzsche.