Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The missing mobile library

Something's always going missing in Ian Sansom's Mobile Library mysteries. Israel Armstrong has just become the mobile librarian in the Northern Ireland community of Tumdrum when, in The Case of the Missing Books, he discovers all the books have vanished. His first assignment is to find them. Then in Mr. Dixon Disappears, Israel must find a prominent local businessman because he is a suspect in his disappearance. Now in The Book Stops Here (2008), the third and arguably the best novel in the series, it is the mobile library itself that goes missing.

Israel and Ted, the disgruntled older man responsible for driving and maintaining the vehicle, take it to London for the Mobile Meet. Israel yearns to return to London after six annoying months in Tumdrum. He wants to see Gloria, the girlfriend he has not heard from in awhile, and reconnect with friends. The first stop is at his mother's house, where she and Ted hit it off immediately, much to Israel's dismay. That night the mobile library disappears from the street.

How Israel, Ted and Israel's mother track down and recover the van makes a rollicking adventure. Done right, this would make an entertaining film.

There's a bittersweet quality to the tale. Both Israel, who wants to go to London, and Ted, who doesn't, are shaken by their journey. Israel finds you really can't go home again. In just six months, everything has changed. As for Ted, a man he has not seen in many years turns out not to be the kind of man he thought he was.

As in the previous books, poor Israel gets verbally abused by everyone, his mother included. Seeing him prevail yet again gives pleasure to the reader, as do Sansom's insightful comments about literature sprinkled throughout the novel. I'll have more to say about that next time.

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