Thursday, 28 August 2008

A Wee Review - The Delegates' Choice by Ian Sansom

The Delegates’ Choice is the third of Ian Sansom’s wonderful Mobile Library Series, set in the fictional town of Tumdrum, Northern Ireland. It was recently re-released as The Book Stops Here and given a funky new cover. Sansom fans may have noticed that have marketed The Book Stops Here as part four of the series. They’ve even got an offer in which you can buy it and The Delegates’ Choice together at a reduced price. This is a mistake. Buy one or the other, but not both.

Whatever the title, the third of The Mobile Series is another fine example of Sansom’s wit and incredible writing ability. These novels just get better and better.

It’s been six months since Israel Armstrong arrived in Northern Ireland to take up the post of Tumdrum’s mobile librarian. And now he’s going home! Linda Wei, Israel’s boss, has nominated him and the mobile library driver, Ted Carson, to attend the Mobile Library Meet in London, where they can take part in conferences and network with colleagues. But more importantly, they’ve finally enough in the budget to see about a new mobile library. Israel is, of course, over the moon at the prospect. Ted... has reservations about the whole idea. Namely, he doesn’t like the English, and he doesn’t think they need to upgrade the old Bedford library. A lick of paint, a new clutch, some brake pads, an engine overhaul and a wee bit of a clean, and she’s as good as new. But Israel won’t miss this opportunity, so he strikes a deal with Ted, involving a £1000 bet, and they’re off on their next adventure. England bound! The stuff of Israel’s dreams. But the dream doesn’t last. For one, the mobile library gets nicked within twenty-four hours of their arrival.

And so, it’s a new job for Israel and Ted, our amateur detective duo.

The relationship between the crime-solving pair seems to reach a new level in this instalment of the series. In The Case of the Missing Books and Mr Dixon Disappears, Israel spends a lot of time on his own. However, due to the travel arrangements, first to England, then up and down the country, Israel and Ted spend most of the book joined at the hip. And this situation lends ample opportunity to some of the snappiest dialogue they’ve exchanged to date. I love how Sansom gives each character a chance to mount the soapbox and browbeat the other. From lessons on political correctness from Israel to lectures on plain common sense from Ted, I could read about these two getting on each other’s nerves for another three books. So hurry up and get book four on the shelf, Mr Sansom!

And it’s not just the humour that hooked me in. Israel, as usual, is forlorn. But he seems to have a little more reason to complain than usual. Life is moving on. Or he is. Either way, I can identify with a lot of what the twenty-nine-year-old is going through. He’s gotten to a stage in his life where he needs to take a good look and see what’s working and what isn’t. Naturally, Gloria, the girlfriend he hasn’t seen for six months, is long overdue a visit.

At times, I found myself rooting for our librarian/detective. At others, I’d to refrain from screaming at the pages. It’s a frustrating thing to witness, but ultimately rewarding, as by the denouement, Israel has advanced a few steps in sorting out his life. And yet, he still has a fair way to go.

As I suspected, The Delegates’ Choice (and The Book Stops Here) is an engaging, hilarious, fun-filled read, and I’m willing to bet Ian Sansom will only get better. In writer-years, he’s barely a pup, but already a master of his craft. Having read three Sansom books at this point, I have to say, he’s proved himself a worthy alternative to Bateman. Is there room for two giants in the NI comedy crime fiction arena? There better be, because they both deserve to be recognised as the talented scribes that they are.


adrian mckinty said...

We'll never really know though will we until we get Sansom and Bateman into the ring together. Bateman v Sansom all-in WCW style wrestling. It would be like the Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks contest of the early 80's. Lets see how witty you can be Mr S. when Bateman does a pile drive on your nether regions (he fights dirty does Bateman). This will have to happen soon though, neither man is getting any younger. I for one waited years to see the Iain Banks v Ian Rankin kick boxing spectacular and that never happened. And as for the famous Salman Rushdie v Thomas Pynchon Connect Four contest, well the less said about that the better.


Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Bateman v Sansom... Genius! Someone needs to organise a crime fiction convention in Belfast and set up a ring. After all the panel discussions, this could be the main event...

Yeah, this has to happen.


Michael Stone said...

And as for the famous Salman Rushdie v Thomas Pynchon Connect Four contest, well the less said about that the better.


Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - He's a wild messer, isn't he? Maybe he should start writing NI comedy crime fiction.