The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. Viking, 2003 (or possibly 2001 – there may be a UK/US publishing thing here).
The Eyre Affair is the first in a series of slightly loony detective novels featuring Thursday Next, an operative with the Literary Detectives arm of SpecOps in a twisty parallel version of late-20th-century Great Britain. Certain people travel freely through time; others (including Thursday) are the proud keepers of reconstituted dodos and other extinct species, recreated through DNA sequencing. Air travel is via dirigible rather than by plane – that’s just how things developed in this world. In this installment, characters from classic fiction are being kidnapped and worse. It’s up to Thursday to set things right and to apprehend the criminal mind who wants to change literature forever.
The Thursday Next books are pleasantly silly, laced with puns and unexpected literary humor. They’re also solid stories. Thursday is a strong and interesting protagonist with realistic problems (like her One True Love, who is marrying someone else, and her unwillingness to play along with the shady intentions of the government). Fforde’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, and it takes a LOT to get me to say that. This is good stuff, recommended for readers who like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. I’d also give it to readers of detective stories, but with a little more forethought.
Please, please take some time to poke around in jasperfforde.com. Hilarious.