Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

I'm not sure that I've read very many books by Northern Irish writers in the past, but over the past few months I've discovered two - Colin Bateman and now Ian Sansom. There are some similarities between this book and the Dan Starkey series by Bateman - both mysteries, featuring a lovable loser as the main character. However, Sansom's protagonist is no hard-drinking Belfast journalist and definitely does not get into scrapes with people who want to murder him and his loved ones in unpleasant ways.

Israel Armstrong, the "detective" in this book, is a fat, gormless young Jewish vegetarian from London, whose only redeeming quality is a lifelong fascination with books. This leads him to take the only job he can get with his library science degree from a second-rate university: a librarian's job that plunks him down in Tumdrum, Northern Ireland, a village populated with people who aren't afraid to tell him exactly what they think of him (not much) in the local dialect (which he barely understands). Israel soon discovers that the job, like the village, isn't quite what he expected. Due to budget cuts, the library has been closed and he has been relegated to driving a very old and rusty bus around County Antrim in his new post of mobile librarian. Also, there's the small problem of the entire contents of the library being missing.

Sansom delivers the tale of Israel's hamfisted "investigation" of the book theft with an absurb wit that makes for a very fun, light read. Be aware, though, that this is no edge-of-your seat suspense-filled crime novel - it's more like Ballykissangel on dope.

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