Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book (Viking, 2002)

What does one do when one has saved one of the great works of literature by entering the story and killing one of the most notorious villains the world has ever known? It's a question that we probably all will face at one time or another, and for Thursday Next, star of The Eyre Affair, the answer is to go on the celebrity circuit, do the talk shows, bookstore openings, etc.

But all is not well in the world, for the evil megacorporation, Goliath, still exists, and where there's a profit to be made and a world to dominate, you will find Goliath ready to lend a hand. This time around — since Thursday ruined Goliath's money-making Crimean War — Goliath wants their agent, Jack Schitt, back, but at the end of The Eyre Affair Thursday trapped Schitt within a copy of Poe's "The Raven" and then destroyed the technology that allowed her to do so. Goliath doesn't care: it just wants Schitt back, and so Schitt's half-brother, Brick Schitt-Hawse goes back in time and "eradicates" Thursday's husband before he can grow up and marry Thursday. Literally in mid-sentence the world changes on Thursday and she finds herself in a world startlingly similar to her own, but without her husband. Goliath's ultimatum: give us Schitt and we'll give you back your husband.

Thus, Thursday has to find a way back into literature to retrieve Schitt. But the only person she knows who can do this is Mrs. Nakijima, whom she met within the pages of Jane Eyre. Were this not enough, someone is trying to kill Thursday, someone who can change probabilities to make the very unlikely happen.

Thursday eventually does make it into books, but in a way she never suspected. Unknown to her (and to most people), there is an organization dedicated to making sure that the "real world" of fiction doesn't derail. Mrs. Nakijima is a part of this organization, JurisFiction, and Thursday quickly becomes their latest protégé, learning from their best agent, Miss Havisham (yes, that Miss Havisham).

Finally, to add one last plot twist, Thursday's time-jumping father has shown up, informing Thursday that all organic matter on the planet is going to turn into pink goo on December 12, unless they can figure out why and stop it.

Just like the first book in this delightful series, Lost in a Good Book is full of lovely wordplay and hilarious literary allusions. Jasper Fforde has begun annotating The Eyre Affair on his Web site. If you go there, you can see just what an immense project this is. And he doesn't let up in Lost in a Good Book, which is replete with allusions and puns. At one point, when Thursday is about to die at the hands of a coincidence, she runs into Violet D'eath, Alf Weidershehn, Bonnie Voyage, etc. Many of the book excerpts that open each chapter are written by one Millon de Floss. The P.R. agent assigned to Thursday is Cordelia Flakk. And the list goes on. You can hardly turn a page without encountering some literary allusion or pun to make you smile.

But the book is more than just a conglomeration of clever wordplay. First, and foremost, this book's plot is compelling. From the first chapter, the reader is drawn in and captivated by what is going on in Thursday's life. Just when you think it can't get any worse for Thursday, Fforde throws in another plot twist. (The synopsis I gave above ignores many of the twists and turns — it gets too hard to summarize the plot without making it as long as the novel itself.) But Fforde doesn't allow his plot to take over the book; it doesn't get too unruly to handle. At points, Thursday feels as overwhelmed as the reader with everything that's happening, and then Fforde takes us off on a JurisFiction excursion, or takes us all to an art exhibit hosted by Thursday's loony brother Joffy in order to relax the franticness of the pacing before diving headlong again in the next chapter. What's amazing, though, is that even these "relaxation" moments are not superfluous; by book's end, they've all been revealed as having some important element for forwarding the story.

I confess I'm in love, but that's OK, because my wife knows about it; she's even participating in this affair. It's less than a year before The Well of Lost Plots comes out and I can reunite with Thursday and her crazy world. I can't wait.

[Matthew Scott Winslow]