The Case of the Missing Books (2006) by Ian Sansom

The Case of the Missing Books

I am a fan of Sansom’s County Guide series, but until this review I had not read any of his The Mobile Library series. The Case of the Missing Books (2006) is set in Northern Ireland and sees Londoner, Israel Armstrong arriving in Tumdrum to take up the position of district librarian. The only snag is, is that they have closed down the library and instead are going to run a mobile library service. Far from what he envisaged Israel:

‘The mobile library is to the library profession what… chiropody is to medicine, or indoor carpet bowls to professional sport,’

he is keen to back out but a lack of funds means he is stuck there. And suffice to say things definitely go downhill from this point in for Israel, having to deal with a chicken poo covered and decrepit mobile library bus to irascible locals and his own rustic accommodation (an ex chicken coop, which is not always devoid of its previous occupants). On top of all of this there is one final problem, which seems more than insurmountable to Israel – all the library books have gone missing! But who has taken them? Suspects range from Ted the mobile library bus driver to a local council conspiracy. Along the way of course Israel gets in more than his fair share of scrapes and embarrassing situations. But this is a mystery with a serious implication for Israel – if he can find the books and get the library service up and running by Christmas he can go home. If not it looks like he’ll be Tumdrum’s librarian for an awfully long time…

Despite being categorised as a mystery novel I don’t think this is a book you enjoy or read for its actual mystery. It is a great social comedy novel with the awkward outsider having to acclimatise to the ways of a small closed community. It is also a story you read for the journey than the destination, as its final solution is more of a postscript. So although I enjoyed this novel it wasn’t because of its central mystery. I would definitely say in contrast, Sansom’s County Guide’s series is stronger and the stories themselves are more definitively mystery ones. Israel though is an enjoyable protagonist who you can’t help but feel sorry for and I think any book lover will identify with him, from his fear of being somewhere and not having a book to read to the ridiculously high expectations he has of life because of his reading. I don’t know if the later books in the mobile library series have a stronger mystery focus but from their blurbs it seems the types of crimes Israel investigates revolve around missing persons or items.

Rating: 3.75/5

See also:

Westmorland Alone (2016) – the third novel in Sansom’s County Guide Series, which I highly recommend.

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