Book Review: “The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime” by Jasper Fforde


The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime
by Jasper Fforde

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Though not directly connected to the Thursday Next series, this “Jack Spratt Investigates” novel clearly comes from the same irresistably twisted mind. Set in an otherwise realistic, present-day world where characters from nursery rhymes are free to mix with the general population – as are blue-skinned aliens from outer space – it transforms the often told demise of Humpty Dumpty into an adult police-procedural. Who knew that “sat on a wall, had a great fall” wasn’’t the whole story?

The result is a constantly engaging mixture of the life-like and the absurd, of goofball humor and a suspenseful, sometimes gruesome murder investigation. Part of the fun, and part of the danger, too, comes from the fact that, in Jack Spratt’’s world, criminal investigation is dominated by a Guild, whose members are just like the sleuths of pulp novels and mystery magazines. In fact, they are the sleuths of novels and magazines, since the Guild controls the publishing rights to the account of every mystery they solve.

And poor, plodding, methodical, ordinary Jack Spratt is not a member of the Guild. A happily married family man with no vices, a crummy car, and a lack of flamboyant personal traits, he seems fated to spend his entire career running the underfunded, unappreciated Nursery Crime Division of the Reading police. And that may not be a very long career, either, if his flashy rival, Friedland Chymes, gets his way. Jack finds it hard to get the government to seriously prosecute the crimes he solves, when Chymes’’ sleuthing sells police-procedural magazines and dazzles the press.

And now, using every dirty trick in the book (“the book” being something only Guild members get to read), Chymes is trying to take over the Humpty Dumpty investigation. Still, Spratt doggedly toils on, gradually winning the respect of his new partner, Mary Mary. (If you pay very strict attention, you will discover that until recently, Jack’s squad included officers named Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick-Maker). Meanwhile, the investigation leads them to consider a colorful assortment of suspects, and as the body count climbs, to face ever greater danger.

Wickedly funny, with a disturbing weirdness that somehow never spoils the sense of underlying realism, this is a truly original entertainment. I look forward to exploring Fforde’’s new world again, as he has already hatched a new Nursery Crime novel: The Fourth Bear.