Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who says Ian Sansom writes cozies?

Ian Sansom's Mobile Library mysteries sound as if they should be cozies: Nerdy London librarian moves to rural Northern Ireland, hates it, has zany adventures with colorful characters, and gradually succumbs to some of the charms of local life.

But Sansom's humor can have a hard edge. In Mr. Dixon Disappears, the librarian/protagonist, Israel Armstrong, undergoes a police interrogation that includes the following:

"You're called Israel and you have no connections with the state of Israel or with the Middle East?"

"No I don't."


"So why are you called Israel?"


"I thought I'd just explained! My mother's Jewish, and she thought it was a good idea at the time. It was the 1970s. We had family there. It was all the rage."


"So you claim you have no contact with the Middle East and yet you have family there?"
and

"Can you name three Glens of Antrim?"

"What?"


"It's funny: you claim you're not an immigrant here, Mr. Armstrong, and yet you don't seem to know very much about the country in which you're living."

The bumbling police officer is a staple of English village mysteries. Sansom keeps the humor but infuses the scene with a touch not just sinister but thoroughly contemporary.

Elsewhere, Sansom has an amateur magician describe the splintering of the area's magicians' groups into a succession of rival factions, most of whose names have three initials. Even at this late date, the jape at Northern Ireland's grim history of paramilitary factionalism has a whiff of daring about it.

And I was pleased to find that the novel contains a nod to a contemporary Irish classic that I will begin reading soon: Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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13 Comments:

Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Great examples of humour in Sansom's work. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So many memorable scenes in that book. And the next.

Have you finished Mr Dixon Disappears yet?

gb

August 26, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Ger: A True Story:

Young Adrian McKinty carrying a telescope in Islandmagee, County Antrim circa 1986. 10pm. Police Land Rover pulls alongside.

Policeman: What are you doing with that telescope?
McKinty: Astronomy.
Policeman: Oh yeah, well if you're so clever, who's going to win the Grand National then?

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Hah! That's brilliant.

I just lol-ed, as those crazy kids love to do.

gb

August 26, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hello Peter, Do you read a book a day? You should try your hand at writing one with your knowledge!
p.s. Hmmmm. Vincent Price. Have to put him on my list. He was a sweet individual, but plays quite the sinister. Yes, I can see the dashing swordbuckler, Errol Flynn.
But Tyrone Power actually played in the firt Zorro film, The Mark of Zorro. I adored him. I wasn't even born when he died, but fell madly in love not only with his pretty face, but his terrific acting: Suez, Jesse James, Witness for the Prosecution, and on and on. Thanks for your vote, comments, and suggestions, Peter.

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard, I'll probably finish Mr. Dixon Disappears shortly; I've had an unusual number of interruptions. I'll probably post another comment that will cull some examples from the book and perhaps attempt an overall assessment. But you're right. The book contains so many memorable scenes and touches that one is tempted to do nothing but enumerate them.

The third book is The Impartial Recorder? Perhaps I'll pick it up at No Alibis.

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I had not known that police in NI were masters of the hilarious non-sequitur. What was your reply?

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, I've actually been reading a bit less than usual because of the interruptions mentioned above. Yeah, I wish I could figure out how to assemble all this knowledge into some remunerative form.

People who know Vincent Price from his horror roles may be surprised, as I was, when they some across his earlier roles. He often played hapless doofuses, and his role in His Kind of Woman is funny because he plays a hapless doofus who keeps on acting like a doofus but turns out to be a kind of hero nonetheless.

August 26, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter,

I said nothing which was wise.

A...

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ian Sansom's Israel Armstrong takes a similar course in the face of police questions. When his reaction is not one of sputtering disbelief, he remains silent.

August 26, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter,

I love that about his books. Yes, ok its the cliche of the dumb beat cop but its still funny.

I think my copper may have made the classic astronomy/astrology blunder but I didnt want to pursue the matter.

a...

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, in genre terms, it's possible to look at Sansom's Mobile Library books as one big anti-cliche, which may be why they are so much fun for this crime-fiction fan. I wonder how they might appeal to someone who does not normally read mysteries or crime fiction.

August 26, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - The third goes by two titles; The Delegates' Choice or The Book Stops Here. I think The Impartial Recorder is a standalone set in Tumdrum (titled Ring Road in the UK). And last time I was in, they had The Delegates' Choice at No Alibis.

gb

August 27, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If The Impartial Recorders is a standalone, perhaps Sansom is creating an entire fictional world,

I'll look for The Delegates' Choice/The Book Stops Here on my upcoming holiday. Thanks.

August 27, 2008  

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