The Eyre Affair
Jasper Fforde (2003, Penguin)
The bookseller I bought this from issued a warning that its charms were stronger for bookish types; I assured him I qualified. It's the first of three (so far, I think,) books featuring Thursday Next, who operates in an alternative-history England as an operative with the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network, known as SO-27. The routine work of the division involves copyright infringement, but also extends to frauds and forgeries; Thursday moves on to face an adversary who can change a published novel by altering the original manuscript--he commits extortion by threatening to kill off Martin Chuzzlewit. That is to say, you don't have to have read Martin Chuzzlewit, but it's much funnier if you know he's a Dickens novel.
The alternative history took a little getting used to, for me; it is complicated by the ability of some characters to travel in time, which can be philosophically paradoxical, to a dizzying degree. Not a problem, really, in such light fiction, and I think it will leave plenty of scope for new plots in the series.
The pun in Thursday's name, by the way, is only for starters--she has a boss called Braxton Hicks, and there are chapter epigraphs by Millon de Floss. And isn't The Cheshire Cat a fine name for a pub? Just picture the neon sign.
Summer Reading, 2005