I always enjoy this author’s writing – see my review of Crosstalk and her masterful book, the first in this series, Doomsday Book. So when the Cap from Captain’s Quarters reviewed this book in glowing terms – I needed to track it down, and when I saw there was an audio version of it, I promptly bought it. I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.
This is a complete joy, perfectly narrated by Stephen Crossley. Poor Ned finds himself on a river trip that borrows a lot from Jerome K Jerome’s wonderful classic Three Men in a Boat – to the extent that Ned even has a fleeting meeting between the characters featured in the book and himself. Humour is highly subjective and I’m always a bit hesitant when the blurb blithely assures me I will find this book hilarious, as far too often I find it just annoying. But Willis’s lovely humour runs through this book in a rich vein without ever expecting it to prop up the story or be an adequate replacement for a decent plot – something far too many comedic books try to do. In fact, the plotting of this offering is one of its major strengths. Lady Sharples has tasked Ned to find a piece of artwork called The Bishop’s Bird Stump, which is supposed to have survived the WWII bombing of Coventry Cathedral. While boating up the Thames, Ned finds himself caught up in an entanglement caused by another historian who manages to save a cat and bring it forward in time – something not supposed to happen. Time travelling can be problematical as a plot device, but I really like the fact there are strict rules regarding what can and cannot happen in this version of time travel.
Events spiral out of control as there is one muddle and misunderstanding after another, all perfectly paced so that I didn’t get tired or fed up with any type of improbability. Apart from anything else, the characters are all the joy with their quirky eccentricity and sheer likeability. All in all, this is one of my favourite reads of the year and gave me some wonderful shafts of humour at a time when I really needed it. I love it when books do that.
Very highly recommended for fans of time travelling stories, or anyone with a fondness for Three Men in Boat.