This was one of the first books I got on Kindle in early 2012, which gives you some idea of the timescale I am working to with my acquisition of books. It seemed light-hearted fun at the time and as it was on a winter sale, I thought why the hell not? I’d heard of the work and the writer before but at the time of purchase did not realise that it was the fifth book in the series. Luckily, prior knowledge of the series appears irrelevant as the writer fills you in on the gaps.
It is baking hot day in August in the West Wales tourist town when our protagonist Louie Knight turns up for work and is confronted by a most unusual proposal from a client. The man claims to be a Museum Creator from Hugheskova, the quirky “English” town in the Ukraine (today called Donetsk, one of the hot points of the present Ukraine Crisis). He carries with him a sock which he claims will be Knight’s fee for solving the mystery he is about to present. Completely unimpressed with the sock, even though he is told it is of tremendous iconic wealth to the people of Hugheskova, he is at first reluctant to take it on.
In this world, Hugheskova is the only place outside of Wales where Welsh is the official language. In the real world, the town was founded by a Welsh private merchant who designed it to British imperial plans and invited over many Welsh miners and industrialists to help build the town – it is fascinating history that Pryce has played on for the sake of the plot.
But anyway, what is this strange man asking the team to do? Investigate the disappearance of a young girl who went missing when her village was flooded thirty years before. That seems odd, a long time has passed – but it also seems that this disappeared girl has been appearing to his daughter, someone they believe is an imaginary friend. This is a strange world mixing urban fantasy, silliness and a dry wit. Comparisons to Jasper Fforde are inevitable thanks to the tone of the writing and the feel to the world, but the comparison should end there. Fforde’s humour is high-brow, based on in-jokes, word play and inside knowledge of literature. The humour here is dead pan, ironic and a little caustic at the same time.
On the downside, I felt my attention start to wander around halfway through. The plot slowed, there appeared to be little action and a lot of talking and the humour dried up a little. I can barely remember laughing in that second half, and it limped towards a final act that was interesting and clever – but one where I had almost lost interest in the resolution.