Monday, November 1, 2010

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

I think I'm the wrong audience for this book. It was written by a Brit who lives in Ireland and takes place in London and a small, Northern Ireland town. It was reviewed as a comedic story, but I seem to have missed what makes it funny. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but to me, the main character, Israel Armstrong, isn't funny or entertaining at all - he's pathetic. He's not even "comically inept" as the London Times suggests (by way of a quote on the book's cover.) So, my final impression is one of confusion. I'm confused about why this book is funny. I'm confused about why the blundering librarian, Israel Armstrong, is our hero. And, I'm especially confused about how this book is considered a mystery when it's completely lacking any intrigue.

Here's the set up: Israel Armstrong comes to a small northern town in Ireland to serve as the local librarian. He arrives to find the public library has been shut down, converted to a mobile library. However, all the books are missing - the library can't actually function - so Israel's job goes from librarian to detective. Seeing the role of mobile librarian as a professional insult, Israel will only locate the missing books if in doing so, his contract will be cancelled and he can return to "civilization" in London. His tactic for solving this big mystery? Driving around town accusing people of theft while repeatedly getting injured and saying, "Agghh" a lot. He makes no friends in the town and is portrayed as a giant fish-out-of-water whenever possible. In the end, the books get recovered and Israel stumbles upon a totally unrelated in justice (or "mystery") that ingratiates him with the townsfolk.

The book's mystery never has a big "wow" payoff, it's actually rather silly if you ask me. To sort of spoil the ending so I can complain about it: The books were never actually missing, they'd just been relocated and the library was still technically intact. Anticlimactic!!

While the story itself left a lot to be desired there's nothing actually wrong with the writing here. Sansom puts together a complete and comprehensive story with just the right amounts of detail to paint a realistic picture of this small town and the people living in it. I just didn't get anything out of the town other than a little, local, Irish flavor.

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