Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Case of the Missing Books (book) by Ian Sansom

Israel Armstrong has traveled to Ireland to begin his very first full-time, long-term job as a librarian. Unfortunately, when he arrives he discovers that the library he was supposed to work at has closed down. His new boss convinces him to agree to drive the mobile library as an "Outreach Support Officer." What she doesn't mention is that the mobile library hasn't been driven in ages and is a little rusty. In addition, all 15,000 books in the closed library have disappeared. Israel, in well over his head and lacking in decent people skills, is told that it's his job to find the library books - his boss won't accept his resignation (in fact, she threatens to extend his contract) unless he finds the missing books first.

This book wasn't quite as funny as I expected it to be. Israel, a vegetarian living in a place that doesn't appear to have ever heard of vegetarianism, is an awkward character, and, for me anyway, the awkwardness often left the realm of "funny" and became more uncomfortable instead. Israel is just awful at dealing with people. He doesn't deal with the missing book situation very well, actually inspiring his first best suspect to punch him in the face. The situation with Israel's girlfriend is pathetic - his girlfriend stayed back in London, and, well before Israel realized it, I knew that their relationship was over. I'm not even sure how they ended up together in the first place, because, from the little Sansom revealed about her, she seemed a lot more confident, successful, and together than Israel.

One thing I did like about the book was the quirkiness of Tumdrum, a very rural place where everyone knows everyone and likes messing around with newcomers like Israel a bit. Just about everyone there has a large pile of overdue books (although the overdue books don't all add up to 15,000). They're also not a very trusting lot. They loved their public library and felt betrayed when it was closed, so a few of the townspeople got together and stole and hid the mobile library in order the keep the Rathkeltair Borough Council from getting ride of it. They then sold the council their own mobile library back when the council decided they needed it again, a detail that had me laughing.

Overall, it was a nice enough book, but not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. I would mainly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading something involving libraries, humor, and bumbling main characters, since the mystery is one of the least impressive aspects of the book.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Color of Magic (book) by Terry Pratchett - This is the first book in Pratchett's Discworld series, although it is by no means necessary to start with the first book when tackling this series - feel free to begin wherever you'd like. This particular book stars Rincewind, an incompetent wizard whose greatest skill is in running away. He involuntarily becomes a guide to Twoflower, a rich and naive tourist, and ends up on a journey around the Discworld. Those looking for another book starring an awkward and incompetent main character who seems to be somewhat disliked by the universe might want to try this book.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis - This hilarious, fast-paced, and strange sci-fi/faux-Victorian novel stars Ned Henry, a time-traveling historian suffering from time lag. In order get him away from Lady Schrapnell, who's running all the historians ragged trying to restore Coventry Cathedral, and give him time to recover, he's sent to Victorian England to take care of a supposedly simple assignment. Unfortunately, he's too time-lagged to understand what he's supposed to do. Those who'd like another comedy of errors might enjoy this book.
  • Vicar of Dibley (live action TV series) - To the shock of many in the small town of Dibley, the new vicar turns out to be an energetic and open-minded woman. The vicar, Geraldine Granger, has her hands full dealing with all the kooky characters in Dibley, plus David Horton, who'd like nothing more than for her to leave. Those who'd like another humorous story in which someone new arrives at a nosy and kooky village might like this title.
  • 44 Scotland Street (book) by Alexander McCall Smith - Pat, 21, is a student on her second gap year and a source of some worry for her parents. She becomes employed at a minor art gallery and is accepted as a tenant at 44 Scotland Street, where she meets and deals with various roommates and neighbors. There's also a low-level mystery involving a possibly valuable painting Pat discovers. Those who'd like another story featuring a large cast of quirky characters and a lighthearted mystery might want to try this book.

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