by Jasper Fforde



380pp/$24.95/July 2005

The Big Over Easy

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

It is a simply nursery rhyme, but the story of Humpty Dumpty has inspired numerous authors from Lewis Carroll to Neil Gaiman and now Jasper Fforde.  While his Nursery Crime Division (NCD) of the Reading Police is a new creation, it bears a striking resemblance to the world which is described in his Thursday Next series.  However, by shifting the emphasis and characters, in The Big Over Easy, Fforde is able to bring a freshness to this novel similar to that which infused The Eyre Affair.

The Big Over Easy is a hard-boiled detective novel featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sidekick, Constable Mary Mary.  It is their job to investigate any crimes in Reading which involve anthropomorphized animals or characters from nursery rhymes and other children's stories.  Their case in this novel is to determine whether Humpty Dumpty was murdered or committed suicide, all the while worrying about whether or not the NCD will be disbanded.

Similar in many ways to the Thursday Next novels, Fforde creates a nice mélange of a detective noir novel and the nursery rhyme world of mother goose, with other stories from childhood to mythology thrown in to add a spice to his world.  The mystery Spratt and company are called upon to solve is suitably complex with enough twists to satisfy mystery fans and also has enough of Fforde's own weirdness to appeal to those who fell in love with the Thursday Next novels.

There are a number of red herrings throughout the book, and many are not explained and left open ended.  However, the knowledge that The Big Over Easy is only the first in a series (the second book will be called The Fourth Bear) indicates that many of these clues will play a role in subplots of future novels describing the adventures of Spratt and Mary.  One of these hooks is the presence of Prometheus and his relating the story of Pandora's box.

Fforde's characters are nicely complex, from Spratt, who is married with five children, is highly competent, but refuses to play by the rules, to Mary, who is new to the NCD and wants to advance her career to the point where she can work with the famed Friedland Chymes, yet finds a loyalty to her new partner.  Complicating all of this is the Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives, for in this world, Detectives, or rather their partners, write up their cases for Amazing Crime Stories, a pulp magazine which determines the pecking order in the world of detectives.

Where portions of the Thursday Next books were getting a little stale, The Big Over Easy provides a freshness which will please readers of that series, and perhaps infuse more innovation into the world of Thursday Next when Fforde returns to it.  In fact, there are minor ties between the two worlds (one minor character in those works, Lola Vavoom, also appears in The Big Over Easy and it is noted that she starred in the film "The Eyre Affair.")  The Big Over Easy is an enticing and enjoyable book which should help increase the numbers of Fforde's fans and satisfy those who have already discovered his writing. 

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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