(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, March 6, 2003.)
Unfortunately, the good folks at Big Finish neglected to include a warning label on The Squire's Crystal, and I'm quite worried that someone might get hurt as a result. Hence, I'm including the following as a public service: Simply print it out, and affix it to your copy. Lives may be saved as a result.
"Warning: The plot of The Squire's Crystal is not a load-bearing narrative. Please do not attempt to put any pressure on the logic in the novel, as it can and will snap. Under no circumstances attempt to engage your brain while reading this book. Simply enjoy the funny dialogue and humorous situations, and return the book to its proper position when finished."
In other words, this book is total fluff. It's endearing, enjoyable, ever so slightly smutty fluff, and if you are in the mood for fluff, I cannot recommend a book more highly... but do not under any circumstances come to this book for its plot.
So, I've now read three Big Finish Benny novels, and I've now had three instances of Benny being duped by a good-looking guy. I don't wish to suggest that she's utterly desperate for a shag, here, but explanations are starting to get a bit thin on the ground. The "messages from Fred" come thick and fast in the section where she gets suckered by Dominic -- from "Nah, he couldn't be trying to dupe me, because it'd be so implausible if that were to happen right away again after the last two times" to "Oh, bugger, he did sucker me, how gullible must I be to let it happen again so soon after the last two times!" Yes, that's the author's conscience speaking out.
This is also the third consecutive book where someone's made use of the Fifth Axis... OK, yes, we get the picture, they're around. Aren't there going to be any other villains to deal with anywhere?
Other minor plot quibbles (How did Avril's lair escape Brax's notice? Why doesn't Benny start telling people who she is once she gets back to the Collection? When does Benny get the chance to do all the research that she claims to have done to uncover all the answers she dishes out at the end?) do get dealt with, eventually, sort of... but again, do not attempt to apply pressure to the logic of this novel. Especially not to the discovery of Avril's lair, which is the worst coincidence EVER. (Just as Dominic visits the Collection to tell them that Avril's lair is somewhere on the asteroid, it so happens that there's a cave-in, revealing said lair. *sigh*)
So, with no plot to sustain us, where does that leave The Squire's Crystal? With a lot of funny scenes and great Benny characterization. Most of the novel is told from a third-person limited perspective, with us seeing the action through Benny's eyes... or, as events unfold, through the eyes of the male body Benny inhabits. Many have made mention of the all-too-frequent jokes about male anatomy in this book... however, they're funny jokes about the male anatomy. (My favorite line was when Benny suddenly shrieked out, "Aah! It moved on its own!" right in front of the girlfriend of the man she was impersonating.) There's also some very funny bits when Avril attempts to pretend to be Benny using Benny's diaries as a guideline, not understanding that Benny uses her diaries not as a means of recording her feelings, but as a coping mechanism for concealing them. :)
The whole thing, despite a few deaths and a "stinger" ending, is a laugh riot from start to finish, a Big Finish equivalent to The Joy Device or Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It's fluff... but every once in a while, fluff is nice to relax into.