Sunday, August 10, 2008

Plot devices by number and two questions for readers

Here are two short passages from The Fourth Bear, the second novel in Jasper Fforde's Nursey Crimes series:

"He explained the news to Mary, who said, `How about if we do a plot device number twenty-six and pretend not to look for him?'

"`So you're suggesting we look for him against orders, catch him, cover ourselves with glory, and the by-the-book officers look like idiots?'

"Mary nodded enthusiastically. `Pretty much.'

"`No, we're going to follow plot device number thirty-eight.'

"Mary narrowed her eyes. `Which one is that again?'

"`We wait until they beg for our assistance, then save the day. For now we follow orders."

"`The Gingerbreadman is not an NCD investigation, Sergeant. You know that.'

"`It was a coincidence, sir,' she responded confidently. `Do you think I would be crazy enough to talked him on my own?'

"`Perhaps not you,' said Briggs, glancing at Jack. Briggs thought for a moment and narrowed his eyes. `This isn't plot device number twenty-seven, is it?' he asked suspiciously.

"`The one where my partner gets killed in a drug bust gone wrong and I throw in my badge and go rogue?' replied Jack innocently. `I don't think so, sir.'

"`No, not that one,' countered Briggs in a state of some confusion. `The one where you try and find the Gingerbreadman on the sly and make Copperfield and me look like idiots.'

"`That would be a twenty-nine, wouldn't it?' put in Mary, who wasn't going to miss out on the fun.

"` No, no,' said Jack, `Briggs means a twenty-six. A twenty-nine is where the bad guy turns out quite inexplicably to be the immediate superior.'"
Jasper Fforde knows his crime-fiction plot devices. How well do you? What crime novels, stories, movies and television shows uses the devices he has his characters discuss? And what are the implications of having fictional characters discuss plot devices, particularly Jack's tentative "I don't think so, sir"?

(The Fourth Bear follows Fforde's first Nursery Crimes book, The Big Over Easy. It's highly entertaining reading, despite a stupid blurb from the Washington Times that Fforde is "our best thinking person's genre writer." (See critical clichés.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Only a blurb from the Washington Times? Nothing from the American Spectator or the National Review?

August 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Washington Times blurb and one from the Wall Street Journal bracket blurbs from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Nothing from Le Figaro, though.

August 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

You mean there's a Paint-by-Numbers (tm) instruction manual for writing mystery novels?

No wonder I've gotten nowhere in my feeble attempts to write them!

August 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What I like about Fforde's plot-device numbers is that I think his jabs are affectionate. I can think of two fine crime novels that use one or more of the devices as imortant, even central plot points.

August 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Among mysteries I've read somewhat recently I remember two cases of 29: in Minette Walters "The Icehouse" and in one very long Anne Perry novel whose title escapes me at the moment.
Which fine crime novels were you thinking of?
The Fourth Bear is a wonderful title.Crime fiction definitely needs more bears.


August 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, your examples and mine ought to ease the minds of readers who might fear that Fforde is making fun of crime fiction.

The Summons by Peter Lovesey is a thirty-eight. I hesitate to reveal my other example because it could be a plot spoiler.

August 10, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


Where should a newbie start with Fforde then? And his humour more Wodehouse or Waugh?

August 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I started with The Big Over Easy, the first book in his crime series. Fforde also is four or five books into a series called Thursday Next, which I haven't read but which I think is in the same self-referential vein. One book is called The Well of Lost Plots, for example, and in another, Jane Eyre is the target of a plot to kidnap her right out of Charlotte Brontë's novel.

Nothing much in either of the two I've read or am reading reminds me of Wodehouse, and what little Waugh I read was years ago and made no great impression.

So, who is Jasper Fforde like? He's a thinking man's Douglas Adams.

August 10, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I wonder who the thinking man's thinking man is supposed to be?

You should check out Waugh again, yes he was a right wing nut, but a funny right wing nut. And like Elvis, George II and (apparently) Jim Morrison he died on the crapper.


August 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It comes back to me slowly. I read Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen years ago. I may have a copy of Scoop lying around, but I might not have found anything to do with newspapers interesting back when I was reading Waugh. Now I would find the subject positively depressing.

August 11, 2008  

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