Monday, October 6, 2008

The Case of the Missing Books

Although not specifically a book for the teen-YA crowd, The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom is a terrific introduction to genre fiction for teens looking for a good read. Very commonly, genre fiction such as science fiction, romance, and mystery are the first adult books that teens read outside of the classics they study in high school English.

There is much to recommend genre fiction for teens.
First of all, with rare exceptions, they are "appropriate" by most standards meaning there is little in the books to morally offend. It's clear who the white and black hats are. Secondly, the emphasis in genre fiction is on telling a good story rather than creating literary beauty. Although those things are certainly not mutually exclusive. Thirdly, if a teen likes the story, they are usually part of a series; so more to read.

As I am always a sucker for stories about books and libraries, and I was looking for a quick, fun read, I picked this up at the bookstore over the weekend. As is true in much genre fiction, this book is part of a series. In fact, it is the beginning of a new series called "A Mobile Library Mystery" series.

The protagonist, Israel Armstrong, is a nebbish, vegetarian Londoner who has taken a job in a small Northern Ireland community to become the local librarian only to find upon his arrival that the library has been closed and all the books have gone missing. As he learns about his new community as chief sleuth, he encounters a full range of eccentric characters on the search for the missing books. As this is the first of a new series, there are introductions to a host of characters who are quirky. Some are recognizable stock characters who we would expect to see more of in future stories, but others are intriguing introductions with back stories that we can hope will be shared in further adventures.

Because at heart this is a book about libraries, there are some wonderful lyrical passages about libraries and books such as the following:
Israel had grown up in and around libraries. Libraries were where he belonged. Libraries to Israel had always been a constant. In libraries, Israel had always known calm and peace; in libraries he'd always seemed to be able to breathe a little easier. When he walked through the doors of a library it wa like entering a sacred space, like the Holy of Holies: the beautiful hush and shunting of the brass-handled wooden drawers holidng the card catalogues, the reassurance of the reference books and the eminent OEDs, the amusing little troughs of children's books; all human life was there, and you could borrow it and take it home for two weeks at a time, nine books per person per card.


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