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The Bad Book affair is a novel written by Ian Sansom and its central character is the rather improbable Jewish, vegetarian, Israel Armstrong. Israel drives a mobile library in and around Northern Ireland and is of course involved in various local events. This is the third novel featuring Israel and all revolve around his mobile library and the people he meets along the way.
From such simple beginnings the reader is drawn into the world of the people of Northern Ireland as viewed by an Jewish North Londoner, Israel is in on the brink of his Thirties, has been dumped by his girlfriend and is living in a converted chicken coop on a farm. He is intelligent, resourceful and has a tendency to talk himself into trouble with the police; he also has a habit of getting into relationships with journalists who are clearly only after him for a story. Israel is the main character and everything is viewed from his perspective, he is pleasant enough and the reader warms to his character flaws.
The Bad book affair is a gentle mystery novel; it follows the disappearance of a daughter of a local politician who vanishes the day after borrowing one of Israel's books which are frowned upon for children. Unfortunately Israel can't remember the book she borrowed and also becomes one of the suspects in her disappearance. The rest of the novel is more an examination of rural Irish life than a true mystery novel, indeed the fate of the girl, her father and Israel is only brought to a conclusion in the last two chapters. There is little sense of drama or threat in the novel and the disappearance is little more than an appendage to the rest of Israel's life.
This novel is a strange one in some ways, at the outset it feels like a slow paced rather than predictable examination of Irish life as though viewed by an outsider, the Irish people have become the stars of the book and how Israel has fitted into their community is the true aim of the novel. The book is however a lovely little read, it's lack of emphasis on the disappearance or inclusion of anything resembling aggression gives the book a sense of reality. The book doesn't set out to construct a crime which a driver of a mobile library come across and through some rather convoluted series of events lead to a final denouement as the amateur sleuth brings all the strange events together under one narrative tale. This is a book which feels like a man going about his business, he's being investigated as being involved in the disappearance of a young girl but in the end he solves the case more by chance than any great leaps of knowledge.
I guess this book survives or fails on the reader liking Israel, the mystery has very little substance so the reader has to enjoy Israel as he plots his way through life in Northern Ireland. The author though makes Israel instantly likeable, he has a manner which makes him immensely readable and as he battles with corrupt cops, his boss on the council and the dislike of the politician whose daughter has gone missing we are hoping that Israel gets through and that by the end everything will turn out fine.
I really enjoyed this novel, so much so I bought the previous couple of novels in the series and hope to review them once I've finished with them. The novel won't appeal to all, it probably won't appeal to all mystery reader but if you're looking for something better than the standard thuggish thriller like Lee Childs or the absurd amateur sleuth novels like Agatha Raisin novels then give this novel a chance and I think you'll enjoy it.