The Big Over Easy is the first book in the new “Nursery Crime” series by Jasper Fforde, the almost unbelievably witty and inventive author of The Eyre Affair and other books featuring the time-travelling literary operative Thursday Next.
I think Jasper Fforde is one of those authors you just “get” or you don’t. If you don’t enjoy his particular convoluted humour packed full of literary and cultural references and in-jokes, there’s no point trying to learn to like it. If, on the other hand, you like one Jasper Fforde, you’ll probably like them all. I enjoyed the Thursday Next books so much I was a little wary to immerse myself in Fforde’s new world, but Jason’s review was so enthusiastic I knew I’d probably enjoy it.
And I did. Jack Spratt is the main character here, an unsuccessful detective in the Nursery Crime division, investigating the death of Humpty Dumpty — was he pushed? Did he jump? (Yes, this is essentially the same set-up as Robert Rankin’s The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, which I haven’t read though two of my students last year raved about it. Apparently the two books are, despite the obvious similarity, quite different in their takes on the classic nursery crime). In fact something much weirder than either fate happened to Humpty, but while the books hangs together as a whodunit, the real pleasure is in the humour, and in the slightly twisted modern-day England Fforde creates. As with the Thursday Next books, this is a world where literature dominates culture (every English major’s dream world, in fact). Detectives in The Big Over Easy are judged not so much by their success at solving crimes as in how brilliantly and flamboyantly their cases conform to the standards of popular detective fiction — when Jack Spratt’s sidekick, Mary Mary, is interviewing for a job, the first question she’s asked is, “And have you published?” The conventions of classic mysteries and the world of Mother Goose nursery rhymes provide endless fodder for Ffordian puns and in-jokes. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to get into the next book in the series, The Fourth Bear.