The Case of the Missing Books, by Ian Sansom (24 October)

I’m… not sure what to make of this one. I picked it up because, well, it’s a mystery with a librarian in it and those are two of my favorite things! But. Well. Let’s start with the synopsis and go from there.

Our protagonist is a late-20s librarian called Israel Armstrong who is a librarian because he likes books and couldn’t think of anything else to do with his less-than-perfect grades. Oh, jolly good. He can’t find a job in London so he ends up off to Tumdrum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland to be a public librarian… except that when he gets there his job is cancelled and they’d rather he be the driver of a mobile library (basically a van full of books that travels to out-of-the-way places to lend to patrons). He’s not excited about it, but he has no money and not much of a life (save for an indifferent girlfriend) so he stays. Somewhere in the middle of the book he finally goes to get the books out of the closed library and into his giant van, but they’ve all gone missing! Oh no! Israel hones up his amateur-sleuthing skills and sets off to solve the case.

Okay. Good ideas, in theory, but in practice? Not so good. First of all, everyone Israel meets in Tumdrum is FREAKING CRAZY. None of them are willing to listen to reason, none of them give Israel half a chance to speak reason, they’re all more interested in mocking Israel for not understanding “English” (read: the Northern Irish accent and slang). His boss even makes it out like 15,000 missing books are somehow his fault. And it’s supposed to be crazy, I guess, but I really very much wanted to punch every single character in the face at least once, especially Israel. I just couldn’t take it.

Secondly, and this will totally spoil the book for you so, you know, warning: Israel doesn’t even end up solving the mystery. No one solves it, because everyone in Tumdrum except for like three people were in on the whole thing. Ugggh. This was seriously one of the most anti-climactic endings I have ever read.

This leads to thirdly: the whole point of this book seems to be setting up the background for the rest of the series (which I will not be reading, no thank you). It’s like how in the first episode of Castle (shut up, I love Nathan Fillion!), there’s a serial killer doin’ his thing in the style of the murders in Richard Castle’s novels, so he goes to consult with the police because maybe he could help, and then at the end he decides to write a new series about the police detective he has the hots for and then that’s the rest of the series, Castle following around the detective on other more exciting cases. That first episode has to be there so that you understand why on earth the police department would let an author go out on murder investigations (and yes, it’s still pretty ridiculous but at least there’s a tenuous reason), but it really has no bearing on the rest of the series, as I think this book will have no bearing on any further mysteries Israel Armstrong and his mobile library encounter.

Oh, and lastly, Ian Sansom uses a butt-ton of run-on sentences. I mean, so do I, but I’m writing a blog, not a novel. Sansom’s sentences aren’t quite up to Henry James caliber, but they are close. Very close.

Um… things I did like? There’s a librarian. He solves mysteries while making delightful references to books. I can’t argue with that.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Northern Ireland)

See also:
an adventure in reading

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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