Ireland’s only English Jewish vegetarian mobile librarian suffers through a bout of melancholia.
Why bathe? he wonders. Why even get out of bed? Israel Armstrong, days away from turning 30, months away from having his former girlfriend Gloria answer his calls, has taken to his fetid bed in the rented, barely livable, redone chicken coop he now calls home in the relentlessly boring town of Tumdrum in the north of the north of northern Ireland. Ted, his Malaprop-spouting bookmobile partner, chases Israel out of bed and back to work, where the unthinkable happens: Israel lets a 14-year-old girl borrow one of the Unshelved, books deemed too unseemly for young eyes. Did Philip Roth’s American Pastoral convince young Lyndsay to run away? Library director Linda Wei blames Israel, and so does Lyndsay’s pa, ousted Unionist politician Maurice Morris, now campaigning for reelection. Veronica, the sultry reporter who earlier dangled herself before Israel, makes him an offer he can’t refuse: Find Lyndsay or become the tabloid headline of the day. So off he goes to interview Lyndsay’s mum, ex-boyfriend, fellow members of a charismatic religious group, and so forth. Their conversations allow the puckish author to satirize food, church, politics, kids, the Irish, the English, J.K. Rowling, audio cassettes and everything on earth that deserves a punch line.
Whither the mystery? one might ask. But that would be churlish in light of all the rollicking wit from satirist Sansom (The Book Stops Here, 2008, etc.).