Having started with Something Rotten and been largely confused (partly because I didn’t know the plot of Hamlet), I’ve caught up with myself as far as Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series goes. The Well of Lost Plots is the third in the series and I think the best I’ve read so far.
A complicated and quite thrilling plot (with very little in the way of those trying-too-hard character names that marred my enjoyment of the first two books), plenty of in-jokes, literary references, and some wonderful ideas and imagery. Unpublished novels where scenery disappears because the author’s decided to use it in his new book; a black market in plot devices; slightly steampunk-esque machinery that transmits images to the reader’s mind… Trying to write a coherent review of this novel is too hard, partly because it’s the third in a series and partly because so much goes on (and not all of it makes sense) so it would be very easy to give things away. As I said to OneMonkey earlier, while I wouldn’t rate it quite as highly, I would say that if you enjoy the works of Douglas Adams or Robert Rankin (leaving aside a Dog Called Demolition) this should probably be on your To Read list.
Full of snot and self-pity as I’ve been this week, I’ve been doing a lot of reading when I haven’t been asleep. The main book of the week was The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, which I enjoyed much more than its follow-up The Fourth Bear (I do have a tendency to read books in the wrong order these days, which occasionally gets confusing but now I have an insight into my dad’s approach to Robert Rankin’s Brentford novels, and an even greater respect for his brainpower). I honestly can’t say whether that’s because it’s better, because I’ve read a few Ffordes now and I have greater tolerance for him trying too hard (it’s the really contrived names that get to me), or because I’m not well and was therefore approaching it much less critically and more with a view to a few hours’ amusing diversion.
The Big Over Easy is one of Fforde’s Nursery Crime Division novels, and if you say ‘Humpty Dumpty’s fallen off a wall in Reading and died; DI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary are trying to find out how and why’ it just sounds a bit daft, but in fact it’s a proper gripping detective novel, a bit gruesome in places, full of twists and brilliantly built-up tension. There’s a healthy dose of satire and an affectionate (I assume it’s affectionate) poke at the classic detective canon, as well as quite Rankinesque absurdity (I was going to say Pythonesque, but it’s a lot more internally consistent than that and it does generally follow its own logic). Berkshire is a long-established safe-haven for anthropomorphic animals, apparently, and Reading has a disproportionate number of nursery rhyme characters, all of whom fall under the jurisdiction of Jack Spratt and his tiny underfunded team. And he’s happily married with five children. No wonder no-one takes him seriously as a detective.
Read it if: you like comic fantasy but watch the occasional Poirot; you like detective novels and have a sense of humour that embraces Life of Brian; you are bored, would like your brain exercised in the pursuit of a whodunnit but are sick of depressing, nasty or twisted police-related stories.