NESFA Members' Reviews

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime

by Jasper Fforde

Viking, July 2005, ISBN 0-670-03423-1

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

In case you were worried: No, Jasper Fforde has not run out of weird, twisted things to do to defenseless Literature.

Jack Spratt, his second wife, and their five children (two his, two hers, one theirs) are living happily in Reading, England. Well, reasonably happily. Jack, a policeman, has the dubious honor of being the head of the Nursery Crimes unit. He and his tiny unit believe in the importance of their jobs, but no one else does. And they've just experienced the embarrassing, and more importantly,  budgetarily inconvenient, failure to convict the three pigs for the murder of the wolf. As icing on the cake, Jack's old rival, Friedland Chymes, has just wrapped up yet another big case, and is yet again basking in the glow of favorable publicity and departmental approval.

But, on the positive side, DI Jack Spratt has a new assistant, DS Mary Mary, who just transferred to Reading fro Basingstoke—in the hope of working with Friedland Chymes. It's her ambition to be Official Sidekick to the great detective, writing up—and featuring prominently in—the great detective's adventures as recounted in Amazing Crime Stories. Instead she finds herself working with Jack—not even a member of the Guild!

They quickly find themselves investigating the death of one of the many nursery characters residing in Reading, Humpty Stuyvesant van Dumpty, former teacher, millionaire, philanthropist, ex-convict, and egg about town. His death initially appears to be a suicide, but Jack and Mary make sure they cover all the bases, and discover that Humpty was shot, apparently by his ex-wife, who subsequently shoots herself. But something's wrong here, and they can't let it go.

Jack, especially, can't let it go, when Friedland Chymes decides that he wants the case, and pulls out all stops in his efforts to force Jack to hand over the investigation. Jack quickly finds himself caught in the tangles of a plot involving money-laundering, smuggling, and bio-terrorism, while at home he's dealing with magic beans, beanstalks, his own unfortunate reputation for killing giants, and his new boarder, Prometheus. (Yes, of course that Prometheus; he's escaped and has applied for asylum, to the great annoyance of Zeus.)

The Big Over Easy, like the later Tuesday Next books, has the advantage of being an outright fantasy world, rather than slapdash science fiction. And while some of the names, like Mary Mary's, are a bit sillier than they need to be, it's all in keeping with the nursery-rhyme backdrop, rather than the apparent pre-adolescent desire to get a reaction that seemed to inspire some names in the Tuesday Next books, such as Jack Schitt. The invention here is more firmly in the zany fun category, with few lapses into "silly enough to be annoying."

(While Tuesday Next and her family, friends, and enemies are neither seen nor heard from, this is apparently set in the same world, and some of the minor characters, most notably Lola Vavoom, do make appearances.)

Good, light summer fun reading.

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