The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde

For my father John Standish Fforde (1921-2000)

Who never knew I was to be published but would have been most proud nonetheless—and not a little surprised

1. A woman named Thursday Next

… The Special Operations Network was instigated to handle policing duties considered either too unusual or too specialised to be tackled by the regular force. There were thirty departments in all, starting at the more mundane Neighbourly Disputes (SO-20) and going on to Literary Detectives (SO-27) and Art Crime (SO-24). Anything below SO-2O was restricted information, although it was common knowledge that the ChronoGuard were SO-12 and Antiterrorism SO-9. It is rumoured that SO-1 was the department that polices the SpecOps themselves. Quite what the others do is anyone’s guess. What is known is that the individual operatives themselves are mostly ex-military or ex-police and slightly unbalanced. ‘If you want to be a SpecOp,’ the saying goes, ‘act kinda weird…’

Millon de Floss. A Short History of the Special Operations Network

My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don’t mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultra-slow trickle. Dad had been a colonel in the ChronoGuard and kept his work very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that we didn’t know he had gone rogue at all until his timekeeping buddies raided our house one morning clutching a Seize & Eradication order open-dated at both ends and demanding to know where and when he was. Dad had remained at liberty ever since; we learned from his subsequent visits that he regarded the whole service as ‘morally and historically corrupt’ and was fighting a one-man war against the bureaucrats within the Office for Special Temporal Stability. I didn’t know what he meant by that and still don’t; I just hoped he knew what he was doing and didn’t come to any harm doing it. His skills at stopping the clock were hard-earned and irreversible: he was now a lonely itinerate in time, belonging to not one age but to all of them and having no home other than the chronoclastic ether.

I wasn’t a member of the ChronoGuard. I never wanted to be. By all accounts it’s not a huge barrel of laughs, although the pay is good and the service boasts a retirement plan that is second to none: a one-way ticket to anywhere and anywhen you want. No, that wasn’t for me. I was what we called an ‘Operative Grade I’ for SO-27, the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network based in London. It’s way less flash than it sounds. Since 1980 the big criminal gangs had moved in on the lucrative literary market and we had much to do and few funds to do it with. I worked under Area Chief Boswell, a small, puffy man who looked like a bag of flour with arms and legs. He lived and breathed the job; words were his life and his love—he never seemed happier than when he was on the trail of a counterfeit Coleridge or a fake Fielding. It was under Boswell that we arrested the gang who were stealing and selling Samuel Johnson first editions; on another occasion we uncovered an attempt to authenticate a flagrantly unrealistic version of Shakespeare’s lost work, Gardenia. Fun while it lasted, but only small islands of excitement among the ocean of day-to-day mundanities that is SO-2y: we spent most of our time dealing with illegal traders, copyright infringements and fraud.

I had been with Boswell and SO-2y for eight years, living in a Maida Vale apartment with Pickwick, a regenerated pet dodo left over from the days when reverse extinction was all the rage and you could buy home cloning kits over the counter. I was keen—no, I was desperate— to get away from the LiteraTecs but transfers were unheard of and promotion a non-starter. The only way I was going to make full Inspector was if my immediate superior moved on or out. But it never happened; Inspector Turner’s hope to marry a wealthy Mr. Right and leave the service stayed just that—a hope—as so often Mr. Right turned out to be either Mr. Liar, Mr. Drunk or Mr. Already Married.

As I said earlier, my father had a face that could stop a clock; and that’s exactly what happened one spring morning as I was having a sandwich in a small cafe not far from work. The world flickered, shuddered and stopped. The proprietor of the cafe froze in mid-sentence and the picture on the television stopped dead. Outside, birds hung motionless in the sky. Cars and trams halted in the streets and a cyclist involved in an accident stopped in midair, the look of fear frozen on his face as he paused two feet from the hard asphalt. The sound halted too, replaced by a dull snapshot of a hum, the world’s noise at that moment in time paused indefinitely at the same pitch and volume.

‘How’s my gorgeous daughter?’

I turned. My father was sitting at a table and rose to hug me affectionately.

‘I’m good,’ I replied, returning his hug tightly. ‘How’s my favourite father?’

‘Can’t complain. Time is a fine physician.’

I stared at him for a moment.

‘Y’ know,’ I muttered, ‘I think you’re looking younger every time I see you.’

‘I am. Any grandchildren in the offing?’

‘The way I’m going? Not ever.’

My father smiled and raised an eyebrow.

‘I wouldn’t say that quite yet.’

He handed me a Woolworths bag.

‘I was in ‘78 recently,’ he announced. ‘I brought you this.’

He handed me a single by the Beatles. I didn’t recognise the title.

‘Didn’t they split in ‘70?’

‘Not always. How are things?’

‘Same as ever. Authentications, copyright, theft—‘

‘—same old shit?’

‘Yup.’ I nodded. ‘Same old shit. What brings you here?’

‘I went to see your mother three weeks ahead your time,’ he answered, consulting the large chronograph on his wrist. ‘Just the usual—ahem—reason. She’s going to paint the bedroom mauve in a week’s time—will you have a word and dissuade her? It doesn’t match the curtains.’

‘How is she?’

He sighed deeply.

‘Radiant, as always. Mycroft and Polly would like to be remembered, too.’

They were my aunt and uncle; I loved them deeply, although both were mad as pants. I regretted not seeing Mycroft most of all. I hadn’t returned to my home-town for many years and I didn’t see my family as often as I should.

‘Your mother and I think it might be a good idea for you to come home for a bit. She thinks you take work a little too seriously.’

‘That’s a bit rich, Dad, coming from you.’

‘Ouch—that—hurt. How’s your history?’

‘Not bad.’

‘Do you know how the Duke of Wellington died?’

‘Sure,’ I answered. ‘He was shot by a French sniper during the opening stages of the Battle of Waterloo. Why?’

‘Oh, no reason,’ muttered my father with feigned innocence, scribbling in a small notebook. He paused for

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