Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Viking, 2005
A Nursery Crime
Jasper Fforde is becoming very well known for his surprisingly successful Thursday Next novels. These are all mostly SF/F books, but are sold in the General Fiction section of your local bookstore. They're silly, madcap, Douglas Adams type stories. I don't know how they became so popular, but they deserve to be. This is the same sort of story, written in the same style, but set in a different, although closely related, universe. I doubt that The Big Over Easy will have quite the following that the Thursday Next books have, but if you enjoyed the Thursday books, this is a must read.
The Story (no spoilers)
The story centers around Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, of the Reading NCD (Nursery Crimes Division), Reading Police. Yes, he's that Jack. And that Jack. And yes, he's also that Jack (well, sort of). But mostly he's just a beaten down detective in the least appreciated (and most under-funded) department of the reading police force.
And yes, his job is solving crimes involving nursery rhymes. It's a lot like Roger Rabbit, but with fairy tale characters instead of cartoon characters. His job isn't easy, and it's made harder by his ex-partner, Friedland Chymes, who has become the star of the Reading police force, and doesn't want any competition.
Things are only getting worse when Humpty Dumpty is found in pieces at the bottom of a high wall. Evidence suggests murder, but who would want to hurt such a well-loved egg? Well, apparently, everybody.
DI Spratt has to discover the murderer -- and quickly, before the Chief takes the case away from him and disbands the department for good.
While this is a detective story, and not a bad one, what really makes the story interesting is the aliens (just like us, but light blue and sticky), the Greek gods (still fighting, and looking for cheap lodgings), the Three Little Pigs (killed the wolf, but damned if Spratt can get a conviction), and a hundred other little things. There is a new suprise every chapter, and each one worthy of it's own story.
Review and Prattlings
This book reminds me of Roger Rabbit more than anything else (the movie, not the book). Wacky, surreal, full of half-real characters. It's also very much like the Thursday Next novels, which is to say, wacky, surreal, and full of literary allusions -- in so far as fairy tales and nursery rhymes are literary. I definitely recommend reading it, but I liked the Thursday Next books better, and if you're new to Jasper Fforde, I'd recommend starting with them.
Aside from being wacky, the book has a couple of other things going for it. The mystery is pretty good (I'm not a real big fan of mystery novels, but I've read a ton of them, and this one is pretty decent). Lots of suspects, a chance for the reader to figure out what's going on before the police do, nothing too stupid as far as plot twists go (it's all very silly, but not stupid). It has unlikable villains, likable villains, and interesting characters of all stripes.
The world is interesting; not so much for the nursery rhyme characters but for the Ffordian extras. For example the Guild of Detectives. The Guild is a group dedicated to the collection and publication of true crime stories for the public, which causes detectives to be publicity-seeking, backstabing little SOBs. Or the aliens, who are boring little blue men (and, one assumes, women) who enjoy filing paperwork and building hyperspace-propulsion units in the garage. There's always something new to catch your attention.
There are some references to the Thursday Next novels -- for example, a reference to The Eyre Affair: the movie. Also, some institutions are carried over, for example, The Toad, The Mole, and The Owl news services. No sign of the Goliath Corporation, tho.
The next book in this series will be entitled The Fourth Bear.