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The Case of the Missing Books (Mobile Library Mysteries) Paperback – January 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British author Sansom (The Impartial Recorder) launches a humorous new series set in Tumdrum, Northern Ireland, the small village that transplanted Londoner Israel Armstrong reluctantly makes his home. The nebbishy Jewish vegetarian shows up at the Tumdrum and District Public Library eager to assume his post as the new librarian, only to find the place boarded up and that it's his job to steward the beat-up mobile library instead. When he finally gets inside the library building, he discovers its 15,000 books are missing. Less astute than the detective characters in the novels he has devoured, Israel blunders through an investigation, making startling discoveries while suffering some hard knocks along the way. Israel's fish-out-of-water dilemmas and encounters with kooky locals will resonate with Alexander McCall Smith fans. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a field crowded with unlikely sleuths, Israel Armstrong--chubby, nervous, clumsy, headache prone, underachieving--stands out. Jewish and vegetarian, he stands out even more when he accepts a job in Tumdrum, Northern Ireland, where it's assumed that, if he's not Protestant, he must be Catholic. Hired to be a librarian, he arrives to find his library closed and his position retitled "Outreach Support Officer"--driver of the decrepit mobile library. Worse, the books he's supposed to fill it with have disappeared. Worse yet, his new boss will accept his resignation only if he finds the missing books first. Between Israel's inept sleuthing and the general unhelpfulness of the locals, it looks as if he'll be in Tumdrum a long, long time. The plot here is an excuse for the scenes, but what scenes! Begging to be read aloud, they unfold with a rollicking blend of dry humor, slapstick, and sheer farce that is nonetheless anchored by a strong sense of place and a sobering sense of the place's troubled history. Librarians have found themselves a new hero in Israel Armstrong, who, despite his unheroic demeanor, is a champion against bullshit and bureaucracy in the service of books. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060822503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060822507
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on October 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
Israel Armstrong, the protagonist of Ian Sansom's fish-out-of-water story, is the sort of character Hugh Grant might play, all bumbling and hapless, if Hugh Grant were Jewish and had a paunch. Israel has left his home and girlfriend behind in London to take up a job as a librarian in "the middle of the middle of nowhere," in Tumdrum, County Antrim, in Northern Ireland. Once arrived, however, he finds the library shuttered and his job description much altered: rather than manning a civilized circulation desk, Israel is to run a mobile library, spreading literature around, quite literally, out of the back of a broken-down bus. Provided, that is, that he can find the town's books, all 15,000 of which have gone missing.

During his quest for the missing books, Israel is thrown into a series of bizarre circumstances (like being compelled to sleep in a chicken coop), and innumerable bad things happen to him (like he's punched in the face), and he is forced to interact with an endless stream of quirky locals (who tend to be more sophisticated than he at first suspects). Think Hugh Grant in Northern Exposure, maybe.

The book is meant to be charming. We're told on the back of the paperback that it "combines the off-beat soulfulness of Nick Hornby with the quirky cheerfulness of Alexander McCall Smith." And, really, the book should be charming: how could the plight of a bumbling English librarian stranded among eccentric Irishmen fail to charm? And yet, it just didn't work for me. The locals are odd, but they're not interesting. The author seems to strain to make Israel's interactions with them as frustrating as possible. The dialogue, meant to be cute and filled with funny misunderstandings, is very often just annoying:

"'Aye, save your breath,' said another woman.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Anne deFuria on January 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
The first in a proposed series about Israel Armstrong, rumpled and befuddled bookmobile librarian in a small town in Northern Ireland, The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom (2006), introduces not only Israel, who travels from London to start a new job as town librarian at the Tumdrum and District Library, but also a whole cast of local eccentrics. The story is a classic "fish out of water" tale. The plot: an overeducated cityslicker arrives in a rural backwater where wiley locals contrive to pull the wool over his eyes about how 15,000 library books have disappeared. The Case of the Missing Books is a charming satire in this tradition. The book reminded me of Bill Forsyth's 1983 movie, Local Hero, or more recently, Waking Ned Devine or Saving Grace, all movies based in the U.K. where the townsfolk's mistrust of authority binds them together, results in heart-warming hijinks, features endearingly nutty locals and ends happily.

The Case of the Missing Books, a mobile library mystery is the funniest book I've read in a while and I would recommend it to anyone who for example, has finished all the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith, and is looking for a gently humorous, character driven, "cozy" kind of mystery.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Read-Only on June 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
There is a time-honored technique in English novels, since the 18th century at least, to take a hero and do horrible things to him, making him ridiculous and miserable until the happy ending. In clever hands, like Henry Fielding's, this can lead to a brilliant and hilarious novel. In less clever hands, like the weaker novels of Tobias Smollett, one simply becomes disgusted with chamberpots being turned over people's heads. Unfortunately, Sansom's novel is much in the chamberpot mode. The hapless hero is essentially tortured for the first half of the novel, and this ceases to be humorous at about page 10. The character has to leave home and his girlfriend for a new job, he becomes seasick, the job doesn't exist, no one picks him up, he is knocked out, he has to sleep in a chicken coop, he loses all his money and credit cards, everyone is horrible to him in a way that is implied to be folksy, he can't understand the language, he can't eat the food, he can't drive properly, he has no map and can't get one, and on and on and on. If you find such events to be hilarious, then you will greatly enjoy this book.

What disturbed me above and beyond the lack of humor was the sloppiness of the plotting. The character's actions simply make no sense, which ruins any hope of a true mystery. The protagonist refuses to go to the police to report the missing books for totally inadequate reasons, such as his chief suspect telling him not to. Huh? The character stupidly lets his debit and credit cards melt (don't ask), and we are told that he has no money. But then he finds some in his jacket. But then he spends it (unwisely) and again has no money. But he never gets his cards replaced for some days. But he is buying lunch and drinking in the pub nonetheless.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By G. Messersmith VINE VOICE on May 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
Israel Armstrong is a Jewish vegetarian from London who takes a job in rural Northern Ireland as librarian of a mobile library. It is a laugh-a-minute as Israel goes from one disaster to another but even this can't keep him from his job. The one thing that does keep him from doing his job is the fact that all 15,000 library books are missing. Israel must find the books. He blunders around the countryside looking for them, wrecking havoc and making enemies as he goes.

The locals in the book are all charmingly eccentric. There's his boss Linda Wei a large Chinese lady who loves to eat and will not take no for an answer. Next we meet Ted who runs Ted's Cabs and initially seems like an idiot but turns out to be a very intelligent, well read, lovable guy. The character of George is played by a beautiful woman who runs a farm and the list goes on and on. It is truly a delightful set of characters that Sansom brings to life and one can only hope they all return in the next book.

The storyline is fast paced and very amusing. There are many twists and turns as Israel stumbles his way about Ireland. Israel is irreverent and silly and you will be amazed by the things he does and says. If you are looking for a refreshing, light-hearted, comical read then this is the book for you.
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