I’m pleased to report that Zachary Shatzer has done it again. The prolific master of zany comic stories has delivered what might just be his best book yet. This one is set in London and tells the story of the titular Percival Pettletwixt and his friends, as they seek to solve the mystery of his lost monocle.
Finding the missing eyepiece involves a hot air balloon battle, plenty of magic spells, a talking miniature ox, interdimensional travel, a man made entirely of cheese, and a series of books entitled Butler Detective, another addition to Shatzer’s growing library of books-within-books that I desperately want to read.
Why I say that this is Shatzer’s best book is that, in addition to delivering nonstop laugh-out-loud jokes, it also has developing character arcs, multiple plot threads that tie together nicely, and even a bit of a message to it, about the importance of friendship and valuing substantive qualities over merely superficial ones.
But mostly, what makes this book great is its humor. Maybe it was the London setting, or the cast that includes a great many well-meaning but somewhat daft aristocrats, but I found myself comparing it to works by P.G. Wodehouse. It’s that good.
Now, I want to say something more about this tale’s place in the modern literary world, but I’m concerned that doing so may, ah, “ruffle some feathers,” so I must choose my words carefully.
When I was a lad, there was a popular series of books involving magic and set in Britain. The first few books were entertaining and enjoyable; at least to a nine year-old, which is how old I was at the time. They were witty and fanciful adventure stories.
But, as time went on, it began taking itself too seriously, and grew from being a humble series of children’s books into that dreaded modern Megatherion of the entertainment landscape: the franchise. Somewhere down the line, its innocent charm disappeared, and it turned instead into an all-consuming phenomenon, spawning countless imitations, until at last it seemed as if every other story was about magic and set in Britain, and a reader wanted to throw up their hands in despair, crying, “No, no! Give me anything but a story about magical adventures in Britain!”
What does all this have to do with Percival Pettletwixt? Only this: that Shatzer’s delightful little comedy manages to be a story about magical adventures in Britain without being the least bit boring or tiresome. It’s fresh, fun, and an absolute joy to read. My only complaint is a handful of typos, and even that somehow only added to the book’s earnest sense of whimsicality, wholly free of self-seriousness or pretension. In short, it’s a jolly good show, old sport!
[Audio version of this post available below.]