The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde

>> Monday, August 27, 2007

TITLE: The Big Over Easy
AUTHOR: Jasper Fforde

PAGES: 400

SETTING: A fantastic version of Reading, England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: First in the Nursery Crimes series.

REASON FOR READING: I loved Fforde's Thursday Next series.

'It looks like he died from injuries sustained during a fall...'

Bestselling author Jasper Fforde begins an effervescent new series. It's Easter in Reading - a bad time for eggs - and no one can remember the last sunny day. Humpty Dumpty, well-known nursery favourite, large egg, ex-convict and former millionaire philanthropist is found shattered beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Following the pathologist's careful reconstruction of Humpty's shell, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his Sergeant Mary Mary are soon grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, the illegal Bearnaise sauce market, corporate politics and the cut and thrust world of international Chiropody. As Jack and Mary stumble around the streets of Reading in Jack's Lime Green Austin Allegro, the clues pile up, but Jack has his own problems to deal with. And on top of everything else, the JellyMan is coming to town...
THE PLOT: Detective Inspector Jack Spratt is head of the most overlooked, underfunded and derided police division in Reading: the Nursery Crimes Division. When Humpty Dumpty is found dead at the foot of his wall, it's clear that as a nursery rhyme character, the crime falls under Jack's orbit.

But Jack will have to fight to keep it, as his bĂȘte noir, noted detective Friedland Chymes, is determined to take on the investigation on Humpty's increasingly complex death. And since Chymes is part of the Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives, he can bring a lot of pressure to bear on Jack's superiors.

MY THOUGHTS: My expectations weren't sky-high when I started TBOE. Every review I'd seen named this one as Fforde's poorest effort. But you know what? I ended up liking it even better than my favourite in the TN series!

Like Fforde's other books, TBOE is chock-full of marvelously clever and funny and completely absurd details. From Humpty himself, the giant egg who happens to be a philantropist, a criminal and a womanizer, to Jack's new lodger, Prometheus (he who gave humans fire and is now fighting extradition back to Greece), not to mention the excitement about the Jellyman coming to town and dedicating the temple of the Sacred Gonga or the Rombosian officer who speaks in binary ("“1000 010011 1010010 10010,” said Ashley in hushed tones on Gretel’s phone in the next room. “10010 11010 00100111 1011.” - “Are you talking to your mother on the office phone?” bellowed Jack. - “Sorry,” said a sheepish voice...")

But what makes the book work so well is that the absurdity is only in the surroundings of the story, not in our main characters or the actual procedure of the investigation. Jack and Mary are both completely normal people, who react just as you or I would if faced with what's around them (and used to it, that is). They're not ridiculous figures themselves. And same thing for the investigation; the procedure involved is very solid. Furthermore, Jack is perfectly seriously about this absolutely ridiculous case, and because of that, the reader can't help but being touched by the tragedy of Humpty's death.

And speaking of the investigation, this is quite an excellent mystery on its own right, an outstanding police procedural. The case is just fascinating, with a lot of twists and turns, and the ending turns it from merely great to brilliant. Throughout the story we'd had about a dozen different threads developing, each funny and clever on its own, but all seemingly unrelated. Well, the ending brings them all together flawlessly and in a spectacular way.

Oh, and the eggy insults were fantastic!



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