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The Big Over Easy October 1, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.

One has to be a little nuts to buy a mystery novel based on nursery rhymes. But not quite as nuts as the person who wrote that novel in the first place. That person is Jasper Fforde. The book is The Big Over Easy. As it turns out, however, the only thing nuts about all this is that I didn’t hear about the book or its author sooner.

Set in an England where nursery rhyme characters live alongside ordinary people, The Big Over Easy is about the events that ensue when one Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty (a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty) is found dead. As this falls within the jurisdiction of the Nursery Crime Division, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his partner Sergeant Mary Mary are called in to investigate. What follows is a mystery with its fair share of twists and turns as befits the underappreciated world of nursery crime.

As fanciful as the premise of the book might seem, readers can be assured that it is not a children’s book; or at the very least it is real fiction that retains much of its childlike charm. Throughout, one can’t help but imagine seeing Fforde as he writes, with a twinkle in his eye and the occasional wink to the reader, weaving a story with subtle allusions to nursery rhymes (from Baa Baa Black Sheep to the Billy Goats Gruff), icons of mystery fiction (Hercule Poirot comes to mind) and the occasional reference to popular literature (the dig at the Da Vinci Code was hilarious). In fact, it is as much a treat to find these references throughout the story as it is to see what Fforde has to say about them. For instance, a running gag throughout the book is the constant fun the author pokes at the mystery genre as a whole: butlers, evil twins and all. But beneath these, there can be no mistaking The Big Over Easy is as serious and well-conceived a mystery novel – complete with red herrings, plot twists and the underdog protagonist detective and his sidekick – that could be put together around the occasion of an anthropomorphized egg falling off a wall.

Undoubtedly, Fforde is a well-read and very creative author, and his penchant for in-jokes and references to other literary works without explanation is as evident in The Big Over Easy as it is in his other more established Thursday Next novels. In this regard, however, The Big Over Easy, the first in a new Nursery Crime series Fforde has begun to pen, is a much more accessible read. Whereas a decent grasp of Shakespeare, Dickens and Bronte are nearly requisite to fully appreciating Thursday Next, most everyone recalls the nursery rhymes of their youth, giving The Big Over Easy broader appeal. Regardless, as in Thursday Next, Fforde has created a novel that invites people to read other books (or as the case may be, nursery rhymes!) and a story that they will enjoy the more times they read it, if only to look out for anything they might have missed the first, second and third times around.

With The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde has put together a novel that will enthrall, entertain and amuse readers for a long time to come. It is, in short, the complete package – so complete, in fact, that it comes with its own website with “special features” and “deleted scenes” to make the entire experience that much more endearing. This is without doubt a very promising beginning to the Nursery Crime series and the adventures of Jack Spratt and company, and one can expect the next book in the series, The Fourth Bear, to raise the bar even higher.



1. Jason - October 9, 2006

I LOVED both books. I put off reading The Big Over Easy for the longest time as a sort of protest over Jasper Fforde’s not continuing the Thursday Next novels, but enough time passed and I needed my fill of Fforde and so I caved in. Fforde is a genius.

2. The Fourth Bear « BRAIN DRAIN - October 16, 2007

[…] story takes place four months after the events in The Big Over Easy. Having solved the mysterious death of Humpty Dumpty, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt and […]

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