Jonas Lamb, the protagonist in R. J. Kaiser's BLACK SHEEP, is an
unrepentant skirt-chaser, a serial ex-husband, and a man of
flexible ethics. He's also a decent guy. When his estranged
microbiologist son approaches him with an astonishing and entirely
legitimate business proposition, Jonas is both moved at his son's
consideration and excited at the prospect of becoming obscenely
wealthy. But the business of making the transition from prospective
obscene wealth to the real deal is far from easy. This is bad news
for Jonas, but great news for readers.
Patrick, Jonas's son, has bio-engineered a way to use corn to
increase the energy yield of fossil fuels. The potential of
Patrick's discovery --- code named Black Sheep --- so threatens the
world's oil establishment that government agencies from various
nations, including the U.S., are moved to dispatch a collection of
agents, assassins and assorted bad guys to surveil, curtail and
otherwise prevent Patrick and Jonas from upsetting the global
Equally bent on stopping Patrick's research is the local chapter of
Save the Seeds, a group of militant environmentalists. They've
already torched Patrick's lab, and now they're ready to move on to
But Jonas's problems don't end there. Elise, his sixth and perhaps
most understanding wife, and silent partner in his new venture, has
succumbed to cancer, leaving Jonas at the mercy of Melanie, Elise's
shrewish daughter. Melanie is convinced that Jonas is up to
something illegal and is determined to undermine his plans.
Also concerned about these plans is Tess, Patrick's mother. Her
re-entry into Jonas's life after nearly thirty years rekindles a
mixture of confused feelings for all concerned. This condition is
exacerbated for Jonas by Crystal Clear, his extramarital honey, who
has decided to dump him to seek out more stable and marriageable
The cast of characters expands to include a shady private
investigator, a number of European espionage-for-hire types, and
others, bringing the cast up to near Cecil B. DeMille proportions.
But Kaiser deftly handles the multitudes and keeps a tight hold on
the reigns of the complex narrative, allowing the story to unfold
at a pace that is both relaxed and irresistible.
BLACK SHEEP is Kaiser's seventh novel --- his ninth if you count
the two novels written under the name Janice Kaiser. The discovery
of that bit of literary crossdressing only reinforces the
impression left by BLACK SHEEP that R. J. Kaiser is a man with a
deep appreciation for wit and irony, and has the temperament and
skill necessary to infuse his pages with a great sense of fun.
There is simply no excuse for not reading this book.
Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 21, 2011