Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime #1) by Jasper Fforde

Posted by Simcha 6:14 PM, under | 3 comments

Thursday Next, the protagonist of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, is one of my favorite book heroines. And while I've really enjoyed all of the books that I have read by Fforde so far, I've held off from reading his Nursery Crime series because its protagonist is so different from Thursday that I was afraid I would be disappointed. But when my e-library recently got in a copy of The Big Over Easy I decided it was time to bite the bullet and give the book a try. I figured, even if I didn't enjoy it quite as much, I'd always have Thursday.

Description of The Big Over Easy:

Things haven't been going very well lately for Inspector Jack Spratt of Reading's Nursery Crime Division. His recent failure to convict the Three Little Pigs of premeditated murder has made him a laughingstock (everyone else rooted for the cute pigs) and his growing reputation as a giant killer is not scoring him any points (though it was really one giant, the others were simply tall). It doesn't help that that Jack is a happily married man with a loving family and no bad vices, because well-adjusted detectives don't make for good story-reading and good stories is what the public wants. If Jack could get an exciting case worthy of being published in Amazing Crime Monthly then he might finally get some respect, as well as a membership to the Guild. And as Guild member Jack could get some budget increases for Nursery Crime Division.

When Humpty Dumpty is found shattered by his wall, with a bullet wound in his shell, Jack may finally have the kind of exciting case that he needs. With the help of his new side-kick, Detective Mary Mary, Jack begins an investigation which reveals shocking love affairs, dirty business dealings and some very dangerous foot fungus. But just as thing heat up Jack's former partner and current nemesis, the popular Detective Friedland Chymes (whose stories in Amazing Crime Monthly are the most popular), arrives on the scene, demanding a piece of the action. When Jack refuses to hand over the case things turn ugly and time begins to run out for Jack and his Nursery Crime Unit.

The Big Over Easy seems to take place in the same world as the Thursday Next books as there are the occasional references to Thursday as well as to several other characters from the other series, most notably Lola Vavoom. But I don't recall there ever being talking animals or nursery rhyme characters in the Thursday Next books so I was a bit confused as to how Jack Spratt and Thursday Next could really be sharing the same world. Though I didn't let this issue bother me too much. I have learned that sometimes the best way to enjoy a Jasper Fforde book is to just take what he throws at you without asking too many questions.

As I had suspected, Jack was a very different protagonist from Thursday Next, and while I didn't feel quite the same connection to him as I did to Thursday, he definitely earned my affection. At first Jack comes across as staid and somewhat boring, lacking the charisma of his colleague, Detective Chymes.  But once we get an inside look into Jack's personal life, meeting his wife and children, as well his mother, with her fondness for cow paintings (you may see where this one is going...) Jack's personality develops a bit more color. As Jack works on unraveling the increasingly complicated case of Mr. Dumpty's murder, other admirable qualities begin to surface, such as Jack's strong loyalty to his employees and his dedication to truth and justice. By the end of the book Jack had surprised me several times and and he turned out to be a character that I have much enjoyed getting to know.

Just as Thursday Next and Jack Spratt are vastly different protagonists, so do the two series differ in their focus and tone, though they both deal with the solving of mysteries. In the Thursday Next books the mysteries and jokes involved literary fiction while The Big Over Easy was all about detective novels and mysteries. Since I don't read mysteries I probably didn't appreciate all of the references and sly jokes about the genre as much as those that do read mysteries, though it didn't keep from enjoying the story. And while I intend to continue on with the series I don't think I'm going to feel the same passion for it as I do for the Thursday next series, just because the territory is not as familiar to me.

     The entire crime-writing fraternity yesterday bade a tearful farewell to the last "locked room" mystery at a large banquet held in its honor. The much-loved conceptual chestnut of mystery fiction for over a century had been unwell for many years and was finally discovered dead at 3:15 a.m. last Tuesday. In a glowing tribute, the editor of Amazing Crime declared, "From humble beginnings to towering preeminence in the world of mystery, the 'locked room' plot contrivance will always remain in our hearts." DCI Chymes then gave a glowing eulogy before being interrupted by the shocking news that the 'locked room' concept had been murdered--and in a locked room. The banquet was canceled, and the police are investigating."

As for the whole nursery rhyme theme, I have to admit that I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I was about having characters from classic novels come to life (that's Thursday Next, again). Something about it felt too cutesy and gimmicky, with the different nursery characters popping up and chapter intros describing different nursery crimes. After a while it felt like just a little too much. By the end I was wondering what material Ffode will use for future books since he seems to have thrown almost all the nursery rhymes into this one already. Though I did enjoy the unexpected profile of Humpty Dumpty as a Lothario with a trail of broken hearts behind him. Not what I would have expected of a giant egg.

While the Thursday Next books still remain my favorite of Fforde's works The Big Over Easy was still a lot of fun and I am glad that I have finally read it. I would particularly recommend it for mystery readers with a sense of humor.

Mr. Pewter led them through to a library, filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

“Impressive, eh?”

“Very,” said Jack. “How did you amass all these?”

“Well,” said Pewter, “you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?”


“I’m that person.”


Huh, I had not even heard of this series :/

Blodeuedd: It seems, from the reviews that I've read, that the Thursday Next series is generally more popular that this one but it's still enjoyable.

I had started this one but put it down. I think I just wasn't in the mood for it. However, I do think I'll pick it back up. I didn't realize there was that much humor in it. You would think I'd know that with a giant egg on the cover! LOL

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