It’s not hard to parse the two main influences on Robert Kroese’s new novel The Big Sheep. The title itself mashes them up: Raymond Chandler’s 1939 hardboiled masterpiece The Big Sleep and Philip K. Dick’s 1968 post-apocalyptic classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis of the film Blade Runner). The question is: Does Kroese’s book transcend the obviousness of that literary portmanteau? Thankfully, yes. While Kroese draws deeply from Chandler’s gritty atmosphere and Dick’s gonzo concepts, he adds his own third dimension.
Robert Kroese’s sense of irony was honed growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan - home of the Amway Corporation and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the first city in the United States to fluoridate its water supply. In second grade, he wrote his first novel, the saga of Captain Bill and his spaceship Thee Eagle. This turned out to be the high point of his academic career. After barely graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a philosophy degree, he was fired from a variety of jobs before moving to California, where he stumbled into software development. As this job required neither punctuality nor a sense of direction, he excelled at it. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. Since then, he has written two sequels, Mercury Rises (2011) and Mercury Rests (2012), and a humorous epic fantasy, Disenchanted.
The Big Sheep takes place in a near-future Los Angeles, following an economic collapse that’s fractured the area into the city proper and a section known as the Disincorporated Zone, or DZ, that’s reverted to barbarism (with a tip of the hat to John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A.) In this brave new city, two detectives, Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler, are hired to solve the mystery of a missing sheep, genetically modified to incubate human organs for transplant. Soon after, the pair get another job: In this increasingly entertainment-reliant version of our world, a superstar actress named Priya Mistry fears she’s the target of an assassin.
As the two investigations dovetail, a bit too predictably, but not without some finesse; Kroese weaves plots like a master, the tribal politics of the DZ boils to the surface.
Until tomorrow: In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.