Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mystery without murder

A mystery novel doesn't necessarily have to have a murder, but without bloodshed it helps to have humor and some intriguing characters to keep readers glued to its pages. That has been the secret of Alexander McCall Smith's successful No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Ian Sansom's Mobile Library series has yet to catch on - just try to find a copy of one of his books in stock in your local bookstore - but it deserves success, if the first novel in the series, The Case of the Missing Books (2006), is any indication.

Israel Armstrong, a bookish Londoner, takes a job as librarian in Tumdrum, a small town in Northern Ireland. There are just two problems, as he discovers upon his arrival. First, the library has been closed for economic reasons. Only a beat-up bookmobile or mobile library still exists. Second, all the books in the mobile library are missing. Israel's first task as librarian is to find those missing books.

He makes a terrible detective, and his ineptitude is part of the fun. Then, too, there are the many quirky townsfolk, who seem to take offense at everything Israel does while at the same time giving greater offense to him. Israel wants only to quit and return to London, but he is warned that unless he succeeds in finding those missing books, his temporary contract will be extended.

Sansom, who lives in Northern Ireland, comes up with some nifty sentences. Here are a few of my favorites:

"You wouldn't mind him driving your cab, but you wouldn't want to have to argue over the fare. Israel strongly suspected tattoos."

"'Mind if I smoke?' said Ted.
"'Not at all,' said Israel, although he did mind actually, but he couldn't say he did because he was a liberal ..."

"Israel reckoned he was probably the most politically correct person in about a hundred-mile radius at this very moment but even he couldn't help noticing her legs."

"... he was the sort of person, after all, who could get nostalgic about yesterday's breakfast."

Those lines can give one a pretty good picture of the kind of man Israel Armstrong is, and also the kind of book this is. I enjoyed it immensely.

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