Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Bad Book Affair

Israel Armstrong, the most woebegone, befuddled, oddball librarian ever, is back in The Bad Book Affair, the 4th book in Ian Samson's Mobile Library Mystery series.  The sly descriptions of what it's like to work on a mobile library van (aka: bookmobile) in a humdrum town called Tumdrum in Northern Ireland makes me wonder who Mr. Samson has been talking to in the library world, because his satirical jibes at libraries and librarians are spot on. Israel is described as a person who gets along with books better than people (hmm...) What he can afford in rent puts him in a slightly renovated chicken coop on a down and out farm; but he has dreams, or pretensions perhaps, of living in a brownstone in New York and having a circle of very delightful intellectuals and artists as friends. Instead, he has a boss who subjects him to an evaluation (chapter 10) in a hilarious scene that satirizes all the "best practises" nonsense ever produced by human resources bureaucrats anywhere and which ends up with the suggestion that he take a face painting class for professional development in order to improve his SAQ's (self-assessment questionnaires) or possibly his UCT's (User Contact Time.) "You're joking," Israel said.' Sadly, it's not joke, it's his life. His driver Ted, routinely addresses him as "ye eejit", but fondly. The local bars and fast food joints only sell the worst kind of deep-fried artery-clogging fare that makes vegetarian Israel miss his sophisticated London neighborhood with its numerous ethnic restaurants and healthy eating options, not to mention the company of his girlfriend, Gloria.
In this book, Israel is in a deep depression after Gloria dumps him and only bestirs himself to solve the rather slim mystery involving a missing girl who borrowed one of the "unshelved" books (ie: semi-sensored and kept behind the desk) in the bookmobile. (The list of titles that are "unshelved" is very funny because it is so close to the truth with only slight exaggeration.) The police declare Israel a person of interest and therein lies the part of the plot that qualifies this book as a mystery. But really, it's a funny, sometimes poignant, character-driven story that ends on a slightly positive note when the local minister's eulogy for a friend of Israel's advises everyone to "believe in the good of this life" as it is, rather than waiting for paradise (p 341) and Israel begins to realize that some of the friendships he has made in Tumdrum should be valued.
Recommended for fans of Alexander McCall Smith's series, Richard Yancey's the Highly Effective Detective series and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

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