Monday, March 2, 2015

A mystery for book lovers

If The Bad Book Affair, published in 2009, turns out to be the last of Ian Sansom's Mobile Library mysteries, it makes a terrific conclusion to a terrific series. As Sansom began a new series with the publication of The Norfolk Mystery in 2013, this probably is the series finale.

Calling the four novels in the Mobile Library series mysteries seems a bit of an overstatement, for nobody is murdered in any of the books. Crimes, when there are any, prove minor. Still, Israel Armstrong, a book-loving young Jewish man from London stuck against his will in a job as a mobile librarian in Northern Ireland, gets a chance to play detective in each novel. In one, the library's books are missing. In another, the bookmobile itself is missing. In the other two, individuals go missing.

In The Bad Book Affair, it is a 14-year-old girl named Lyndsey Morris who disappears. Because this happens soon after Israel allows her to check out one of the Unshelved books, both the girl's father and Israel's boss blame him for the disappearance. The Unshelved are books, mostly respected works of literary fiction, considered too mature for young readers. Thus, they are kept under the counter until a patron asks to see them. Lyndsey borrows a novel by Philip Roth. Israel, who likes placing good books in the hands of young readers, sees nothing wrong with what he's done, but others do. He even gets pulled in for questioning by the police. Then he does some investigating on his own.

Sansom's books are more comic novels than mysteries. The conversations -- and the stories consist mostly of conversations -- are priceless. Yet these novels, at their core, are really about literature and about the reading life. Most mystery fans won't like them, but most bibliophiles will.

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