In 2002, Jasper Fforde won over fans from all over the world with "The Eyre Affair." Now he's presented "Well of Lost Plots," the third playful satire/mystery/fantasy starring hardboiled detective Thursday Next. It lacks the oomph and tightness of the first two books, but the hilariously literate mystery is still enthralling.
Thursday Next is in self-exile. After her husband was erased as a blackmail ploy and the world was almost reduced to goo, she is lying low to wait for her baby's birth, and to figure out how to bring her husband back. Problem is, she is now living in an unpublished detective thriller in the Well of Lost Plots, a sort of fiction limbo. The fictional people are thrilled to meet an Outlander (a person from the real world), but Thursday must deal with some generic extra roommates, and a pregnancy by the husband who no longer technically exists.
Then her mentor dies horribly, and Thursday finds that her brain is being invaded by memory-erasing mindworm. She sets out to uncover a black market that is recycling characters, and to avoid the attacks of the evil Aornis. Soon the world of fiction is under attack yet again -- and it's Thursday Next to somehow stop everything from collapsing.
One of the greatest things about Fforde's books is how hysterically smart they are. Fforde peppers his book with the Lewis Carroll, Falstaff, the Questing Beast, Mr. Toad, the Minotaur, the early works of the Brontë sisters, Heathcliff, and much more. What's more, he gives them a wink-nudge twist worthy of the best of British comedy.
That isn't to say that it's perfect. Fforde seems to lose the flow from time to time, and the plot takes quite some time to figure out where it's going. But his dialogue is still wickedly funny (when talking about discarded fantasy novels: "Do you have unicorns?" "Yes, sackloads"), and his subtle satire is delicious. It almost makes you forget that the plot meanders.
Thursday is a little more weathered in her third mystery; she's a little more vulnerable than before, which has dulled her edge. She still totes a gun and can be the toughie when required, though. The hilariously tough Ms. Havisham and nurturing Gran serve as nice foils and backups. So do ibb and obb, a pair of generic background characters who have no personalities, backgrounds... or senses of humor.
Fforde's unique fantasy-mysteries are like reading an Escher print, with a bit of Monty Python sprinkled in the margins. "Well of Lost Plots" isn't as good as the two before it, but it's still wickedly intellectual goofiness. Highly recommended.