Book review: Mystery Mobile: The Case of the Missing Books

Mystery Mobile: The Case of the Missing Books
By Ian Sansom
Harper-Collins Publishers
Copy purchased by reviewer
ISBN: 0060822503

Review by James Mowery

The back copy on Ian Sansom’s “mystery” novel, “The Case of the Missing Books,” claims that its protagonist, Israel Armstrong, is “one of literature’s most unlikely detectives.” The sneer quotes here are intentional, though not meant to be especially sneering – consider, instead, that they may simply be telling.

The plot, such as it is, centers around Israel’s arrival in the grim, seaside northern Irish town of Tumdrum, where (he thinks) he has been given a plum job as the head library of the Tumdrum and District Library. It turns out, however, that he is, in fact, the Head Learning Facilitator of the Tumdrum and District Mobile Learning Center – a mobile library, the van for which is, at the time of his arrival, being used a chicken coop. He finds, then, that the room that has been arranged for him is also a chicken coop, on a dysfunctional farm not far from Tumdrum itself.

Then Israel discovers that the entire collection has disappeared.

The story moves with a certain lackadaisical, ramshackle charm, dealing in stereotypes kindly applied. Certainly, the residents of Tumdrum are stereotypes, but so is Israel himself: He is a proud holding of a B.A. (Hons) in English and American Studies, and he flaunts it gloriously, self-consciously name-dropping the greats of twentieth-century literature. His antics, and his scrapes against local culture, form the bulk of the narrative.

In fact, the greatest flaw in “The Case of the Missing Books” is not really a flaw of the book itself at all: It’s a flaw in the packaging. Israel Armstrong, vegetarian librarian and unlikely detective, scarcely does a thing to solve the case. It doesn’t really matter, though: Sansom’s style and characterization are winning enough on their own.

About the author: James Mowery is a computer geek that writes about technology and related topics. To read more blog posts by him, go to led tv.