Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: The Case of the Missing Books


The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: spotted it at Barnes and Noble a while ago and thought it sounded perfect for me, with the whole librarian theme and all; Detective genre for the Genre Challenge

Synopsis: "Israel Armstrong is a passionate soul, lured to Ireland by the promise of an exciting new career. Alas, the job that awaits him is not quite what he had in mind. Still, Israel is not one to dwell on disappointment, as he prepares to drive a mobile library around a small, damp Irish town. After all, the scenery is lovely, the people are charming—but where are the books? The rolling library's 15,000 volumes have mysteriously gone missing, and it's up to Israel to discover who would steal them . . . and why. And perhaps, after that, he will tackle other bizarre and perplexing local mysteries—like, where does one go to find a proper cappuccino and a decent newspaper?"

My thoughts: This one just didn't do it for me and I'm sad about that because I wanted to love it. Like a lot of books I've read lately, the very ending redeemed it for me a fair bit, which bumped it up half a star. I think it could be a good book for lots of cozy mystery fans - there's no murder and it does have funny parts.

I think my problem was my librarian-ness. Israel, while amusing, is a loser. I wanted the librarian to be awesome. Apparently in England you can become a librarian after 6 months at a 5th-rate college, which is what Israel's qualifications are. Yet all that got him was a job in a discount bookshop. And then, the job of "librarian" in Tumdrum, Middle of Nowhere, Ireland. Except, they've closed the library down and Israel's actually going to be driving the bookmobile. If he can find the books, which are now solely his problem even though he's just arrived.

Maybe the humour was too broad for me - Israel's loserness, the complete stupidity of the town council's library representative - the fat, Asian, bureaucratic Linda (although there are a few great moments of PC-to-the-max pencil-pusher ridiculousness with her). And the fact that the whole town of Tumdrum is just mean to Israel - they refuse to help him even though they've asked him to come to their godforsaken town and he's basically penniless and doesn't understand the local culture or even the dialect, they act like it's his fault the library is closed and the books are missing, the only accommodation offered to him is a chicken coop owned by a surly farm family, and townspeople beat him up and threaten him. Perhaps this type of humour would've worked better as a TV show. It reminded me a bit of the Vicar of Dibley, though without as much charm.


I will say Sansom hit the nail on the head with his description of what a busy library usually looks like, when Israel discovers the building is closed up:
"No one was approaching with armfuls of books...there were no sour and pear-shaped OAPs; no straggle-haired young mums at their wits' end with smeary, miserable children dragging along for story time; no one clutching important-looking unimportant documents to be photocopied in triplicate...no wrinkled, stubbly, fragrant winos; no schoolkids half-heartedly working on projects about ancient civilizations or the Second World War or the processes of human digestion. No madmen. No one. None of them. The building was empty. The car park was deserted.
The library was shut."

It's funny that I chose this for my detective novel, because Israel doesn't actually solve the case of the missing books himself - all of his theories about who stole the books are completely wrong.

The verdict: Not my cup of tea, but it could be a good read for someone who likes cozy mysteries full of small-town eccentrics. It also might help if you don't base most of your identity on being a librarian, like I do. :-)

43 comments:

raidergirl3 said...

No, I agree with you completely. It just seemed odd that the town insisted he solve the mystery and then no one would give him any help.
I wanted to like it more, but it was too boring, and he was a loser so you couldn't even cheer for him.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Thanks, pal! :) Once again we are of the same reading mind. :) I'm glad it wasn't just me.

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