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The Bad Book Affair: A Mobile Library Mystery    by Ian Sansom order for
Bad Book Affair
by Ian Sansom
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Readers last encountered mild English Jewish vegetarian Israel Armstrong, his mobile library, and his elderly sidekick Ted in The Book Stops Here. That ironic romp took them to England where their van was (temporarily) stolen, Ted enjoyed a sizzling relationship with Israel's mother Eva, and Israel's girlfriend Gloria dumped him (he's the only one who didn't see it coming!)

Now, his thirtieth brithday looming, Israel is pulled out of two weeks of depressive lounging in his converted chicken coop refuge by Ted's threat to call his mother. He's lost considerable weight on his diet of books, peanut butter, wine and cider, and has grown a beard. He calls Gloria several times a day, with no response. Though Israel always strikes me as a glass-half-empty, Eeyore-like character, he's really down and out this time.

Israel lives and works in 'Tumdrum, the armpit of Antrim, on the north of the north coast of the north of Northern Ireland, a place where the sky was always the color of a pair of very old stone-washed jeans'. While his adventures are light on mystery, they're heavy in irony (as in mobile library clients 'looking for the De Saurus' and Israel's dislike of Harry Potter audiobooks, which Ted considers classics). Israel sees himself as 'a square peg in a round hole, a fish out of water, out of step, out of time, and out of place.'

The Bad Book Affair starts with a young Goth - daughter of local politician Maurice Morris, 'the Man with the Plan' - taking out an Unshelved book from the mobile library. The Unshelved are those considered bad books by the Mobile Library Steering Committee. That gets Israel into trouble with the politician, his boss Linda Wei ('Tumdrum's only and most prominent lesbian Chinese single mother'), and - after Lyndsay Morris disappears - the police.

As always, Isreal solves the minor mystery (with Ted's help). Along the way he advances his relationship with his landlady, George; is blackmailed by the media; deals with the death of an elderly friend (to whom he read every Sunday and who reciprocated by educating Israel's palate and supplying him with wines); and gets over Gloria. I wasn't sure about this Mobile Library Mystery series when I started, but was soon addicted to its colorful characters, wry humor, and satire of reading tastes. It's great, lugubrious fun.

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