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Cripplingly funny? Just crippling

    Maybe you just have to be in the mood for it. Maybe it is not a good idea to discover a whimsical series four books down the line. Maybe I felt a bit short-changed that I did not find Ian Sansom’s writing “cripplingly funny” as did, evidently, a previous reviewer from the Independent.

    Basically, I read through the 358 pages of cock-eyed Irish charm that comprise The Bad Book Affair (Fourth Estate, £7.99) desperately searching for a story.

    We are in the company of mobile librarian Israel Armstrong. He is Jewish. We are in Ireland. The Irish are funny often (apparently) just by virtue of being Irish. Israel Armstrong, on the other hand, is a man at odds with his environment. Cue shed-loads of laughter — except not in my house.

    Probably, three books ago, the comedic possibilities of dropping an urban London Jew — oh, he’s a vegetarian, by the way, which perhaps also ought to occasion gales of hilarity — into the northernmost armpit villages of Northern Ireland, were almost limitless. There would be shades of Porterhouse Blue, of Lucky Jim, even a dash of madcap Wodehousian adventure mixed with a bit of Father Ted.

    Unfortunately, as far as I can make out, the only Jewish thing about Israel Armstrong is his name. The “detective” work is so feeble it barely qualifies as such.

    A teenage girl goes missing in this one. She turns up again. Israel fancies his landlady. She says she’s going to make chopped liver. Despite being a vegetarian, he salivates. End of story.

    Like I say, maybe you just have to be in the mood for it. Or be Irish.

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