He skirts a fine line at times – all this self-referential stuff can get very old and contrived if you’re not careful (eg. McGirt’s appalling Royal Chaos) – but mostly it feels like Fforde is just enjoying himself rather than trying very hard to impress or be funny. Hey, maybe he is trying to be funny, but it doesn’t generally feel that way, and that’s the main thing. The charm of his down to earth Commander Vimes-like Detective Inspector doesn’t quite cross the line into sentimentality, and it is refreshing (as Fforde unsubtly highlights in having Jack claim all sorts of vices to impress the Guild) to have a mature hero who gets along quite well with his likeable nuclear family (cf. Fredrickson’s able A Defence for the Dead). The book could so easily slip either way in a few areas: I liked a line Fforde himself had about trying to not cross a line in his ‘DVD extras’ website about the book:
I had several bizarre ideas that I wanted to use but it flipped the story into stupid, rather than silly - and I think there is a subtle line between the two.
This is largely about the ride, and an enjoyable ride is enough. Quirky characters and amusing spins on classic crime scene investigations carry us along, but the framework of Jack’s enmity with the execrable Friedland Chymes is robust enough (and by the way, that notion of reconstructing the incriminating conversation from the dispersion of the breadcrumbs was inspired – it perfectly captured the tortured nonsense of the occasionally absurd explanations offered in crime shows and novels). As the book went on I think Fforde was running a bit low on ideas for his chapter heading asides (think of a crime cliché, write a newspaper style paragraph saying it’s been outlawed) but otherwise, as I say, it felt like he was enjoying throwing his characters around in the nursery crime world.