Ian Sansom has created a most unusual detective in Israel Armstrong: a depressed, Jewish-English vegetarian librarian who drives  an old mobile library van in the tiny Northern Ireland village of Tumdrum.

Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library Mystery series is hallmarked by  the author’s gift for wry humor, as he illustrates the very ordinariness of Tumdrum’s inhabitants and their daily lives. This fourth installment, The Bad Book Affair, finds Israel still adjusting to his breakup with long-time English girlfriend, Gloria. As he awaits his thirtieth birthday, Israel is overcome by a feeling of despair and takes to his bed for a few weeks, existing on spirits and spoonfuls of peanut butter, growing a beard and losing weight in the process. When he is rousted unceremoniously from his navel-gazing by Ted, his driver and friend, Israel returns to work. But within a matter of days, the disappearance of the troubled daughter of a local politician turns his already-slanted world on its head.

Israel suspects the girl’s disappearance may be related to his lending her American Pastoral from the library’s special “Unshelved” category. These are books the Library Committee has decided he must keep under his desk, not on open shelves, and are given out upon request. (They include such horrific and distasteful tomes as  Lady Chatterly’s Lover, A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty-four, and American Psycho) With Ted’s grudging help, Israel tries to find the girl before he can be run out of town–or celebrate his thirtieth birthday.

As usual, Sansom’s humor extends to the way he ends this book, with another enormous listing of Acknowledgments, people he readily admits he probably doesn’t know personally but have had some impact on his life, from the droll to the mundane. This list ranges from Amy Adams to Carla Bruni, from the Holywood Cricket Club to Marcel Mareau.


Sansom’s books have a lot to say about human nature; about friendship and where to find it; and about the universality of the questions we face in our lives, whether we are Jewish, Presbyterian, religious or non,  vegetarian or not.