Picks and Pans Review: The Well of Lost Plots

UPDATED 03/01/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/01/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

By Jasper Fforde

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The well of Fforde's imagination is bottomless in the delightful third installment of his Thursday Next series. Thursday, who made her debut in 2002's surprise hit The Eyre Affair, is a secret agent in SpecOps, a fanciful English police unit that protects the literary world. When bad guys abduct such characters as Jane Eyre, SpecOps returns them to the stories in which they belong. In retaliation for Thursday's heroics her husband has been eradicated, leaving her alone with her memories.

In need of a break, she spends her maternity leave inside the Well of Lost Plots, the dingy 26-story subbasement of the Great Library, where living books are stored. In the Character Exchange Program, she takes up residence in an unpublished police procedural called Caversham Heights, where she plays sidekick to a hard-drinking detective alongside two "generics," characters without characteristics, who are awaiting assignment to yet-to-be-written novels. Her mission: to save them from literary limbo.

There are inside jokes on just about every page plus nifty new villains such as grammasites, parasitic life-forms that infest books, turning nouns into verbs. Cameos by familiar characters deliver plenty of chuckles—Dickens's Miss Havisham makes an appearance, as does Chitty—Chitty Bang Bang. But what keeps this series humming is Fforde's lively engagement with books and the indefatigable woman he's created to defend them.

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