Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Big Over Easy: Jasper Fforde

This is the first book in the Nursery Crime series by Jasper Fforde, who also wrote the Thursday Next series. DCI Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary investigate crimes within the world of nursery rhymes. In The Big Over Easy, they investigate the apparent suicide of Humpty Dumpty. The book is a fantasy / mystery crossover with lots of humor, puns, and satire.

To give you a taste of Jasper Fforde's prose and the wackiness of the story, here is an excerpt. Mary Mary has just been transferred to the city of Reading in Berkshire, England.
Reading wouldn't have been everyone's choice for a transfer, but for Mary, Reading had one thing that no other city possessed: DCI Friedland Chymes. He was a veritable powerhouse of a sleuth whose career was a catalog of inspired police work, and his unparalleled detection skills had filled the newspaper columns for over two decades. Chymes was the reason Mary had joined the police force in the first place. Ever since her father had bought her a subscription to Amazing Crime Stories when she was nine, she'd been hooked. She had thrilled at "The Mystery of the Wrong Nose," been galvanized by "The Poisoned Shoe" and inspired by "The Sign of Three and a Half." Twenty-one years further on, Friedland was still a serious international player in the world of competitive detecting, and Mary had never missed an issue.
However, Mary does not get assigned to work with DCI Chymes. She is assigned to the much less attractive Nursery Crime Division, headed by Jack Spratt.

My thoughts:

My son read this first and recommended the book, and I enjoyed it very much. This book requires that you step into another world peopled by Nursery Rhyme characters, aliens, and mythical creatures... and suspend disbelief. I am not so good at doing that so it took me a third of the book before I was comfortable with the premise.

In this world, it is at least as important to be able to write up the results of the crime to be published (and made into prime time documentaries), as it is to actually solve the crime. In fact policemen are willing to stretch the truth to fit those requirements, and will compete to take over a case that may be "good copy." They then become stars of publications like the Amazing Crime Stories journal. That seems ridiculous on the face of it, but in today's world maybe not so much so. If you can just sit back and accept that it all makes sense in an alternate world, then it is a lot of fun.

I am not a fan of funny names in mysteries, but it works here so I accepted it. Sometimes the humor in mysteries escapes me, as I noted when I read reviews after finishing the book, but even my failure to get many of the jokes did not hamper my enthusiasm or enjoyment.

I will admit I had a problem with too many characters to track and getting confused by the characters and their relationships to Humpty Dumpty. But that happens in a LOT of mysteries I read. On the other hand, I liked the characters, I enjoyed following the story, and I thought the plot and writing were well done.

If you are a fan of humor and satire in your mysteries, and can handle fantasy elements, then this book is definitely worth a try.

TV Tropes has a nice page about the Nursery Crime series, and they describe it as "Shrek meets the Police Procedural."


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2006 (orig. publ. 2005).
Length:      383 pages 
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Nursery Crime series, #1
Setting:      Reading, UK
Genre:       Fantasy / Police Procedural
Source:      My son bought this at the Planned Parenthood book sale and loaned it to me.


Anonymous said...

It does sound entertaining, Tracy. I'm honestly not usually one to give up disbelief that easily, myself. But sometimes, when it's well written, it can make for a good read. I'm glad it worked for you here.

Rick Robinson said...

I tried it, got about 40 pages in and gave it up. Just not much to my liking.

TracyK said...

Well written is the key here, Margot. I like almost anything if it is well written.

TracyK said...

I can understand, Rick, this type of book is not for everyone, and sometimes not for me either. But I grew to like the main characters and found them convincing.

Yvette said...

I loved the whole premise, Tracy. Read this many years ago. The sequel (of sorts) is THE FOURTH BEAR (with talking bears) which is, to my crazed mind, even better. Please don't miss that. I wrote about it on my blog a while back. I love Jasper Fforde's imagination. He is unique. Though Christopher Moore comes close.

Yvette said...

P.S. Also love the covers of both books.

Mathew Paust said...

What a clever, hilarious idea! I'd not known of these. And the title is perfect!

TracyK said...

I am glad you mentioned THE FOURTH BEAR, Yvette, because I had wondered if I should look out for it. I will do that. I haven't tried Christopher Moore yet but I will.

TracyK said...

They are nice covers, I like the hardback ones too.

TracyK said...

I think these books would appeal to you, Mathew. You would notice much of the literary references and humor than I did.

Clothes In Books said...

I tried one of his books, and didn't really go for it. Maybe I should try another - I trust your judgement!

TracyK said...

Moira, I read four of the Thursday Next novels and enjoyed them but did not continue. But that was when they first came out and I don't remember much. It seems to me that this Nursery Crime book is more fantasy-like and more humorous, but my memory of it all could be off. I feel like the books are worth a try but they still might not be to your taste. But I am sure you would catch many more references than I did.

col2910 said...

I've got a few from him on the shelves, but he was an impulse buy spree. I read something by him which was only ok, so I haven't rushed back to him. Buy in haste, repent at leisure I think. His humour was annoying, from memory.

TracyK said...

I understand, Col, humor is so subjective. I and boy, do I know about impulse buying. I hope to curb that at the book sale this year and buy less.