(Oops … I wrote this last week before going away (more later) and forgot to press Publish)
I have just finished this book, and all I have to say is Gaaarrhhh!!!
As a rule I always try to finish any book that I start, but this one would have defeated me if it were not for the fact that it was the designated book for the month in the reading group I am in. It was frustrating from beginning to end. To begin with the whole story is set up on a rather far fetched scenario in that the Protagonist, Israel Armstrong, turns up outside a library in Tumdrum, a fictional small town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, only to find it closed down. He is then cajoled into taking on a role as the Librarian of the Mobile Library that the council has set up to replace it. This for me was a push in terms of believability, but he then stumbles from one implausible mishap to another, meeting a series of Irish people that are so cringingly and almost offensively stereo-typically Irish they appear to have been dragged from an episode of Father Ted.
Israel, is a guardian reading Jewish librarian who was undoubtedly set up to be the bumbling but well meaning type that stumbles onto the answer through his own amusing ineptitude. He actually comes across as an almost unlikeable character with very little in the way of redeeming features. He is a self absorbed, self pitying and quite frankly pathetic individual who is apparently well read but without any outward sign of intelligence.
The story is basically a series of anecdotes and stereo types cobbled together by a weak and unconvincing plot. In what I can only assume is an attempt by the author to convince us that he is as well read as his fictional librarian, we get many references to and derogatory remarks about other books, in what feels like a bout of Literary name dropping. Books that quite frankly are far superior to this one.
To top it off, it would appear that the author finally got bored with the story too, as he could not bring himself to write an ending. If this is meant as a detective story Sansom really should try taking note a little better of the likes of Hercule Poirot, to whom Israel likens himself. The detective story should slowly unravel itself giving subtle clues to the reader which, whilst not being enough to give the game away, on reflection do indicate the eventual perpetrator. In this case however the mystery is solved out of the blue, not by our would-be sleuth, or even by his trusty sidekick, but by a confession by up until then a bit part character. This is all squeezed into the last few pages with very little in the way of explanation.
To top it off with no real explanation for his monumental change of mind, in the last part we are led to believe that Israel decided to stay on in Tumdrum to run the mobile library leaving troubling possibility of another instalment.
The one redeeming feature of this book is that it is short. It is however a few hours of my life that I will regretfully not be getting back. Really, if you are looking for a book to read, skip this one and buy any of the books that it mocks, from memory (I would look but I can’t bring myself to reopen the book) are