Since enjoying The Eyre Affair last fall and Shades of Grey during my blogging break, I’ve been meaning to read more by Jasper Fforde. When I came across The Big Over Easy, the first book in the Nursery Crimes series, on audio at my library, I picked it up.
About the Book:
Detective Sergeant Mary Mary has just transferred to Reading from Basingstoke (which, as we hear quite often, is nothing to be ashamed of) and is hoping to land a more exciting position — maybe even one with the suave and wildly famous Friedland Chymes, an esteemed member of the Detective’s Guild and a media darling. Instead, she finds herself assigned to the Nursery Crimes Division under Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, where her colleagues include gems like Constables Baker (a hypochondriac who’s certain he is dying) and Ashley (an alien who speaks binary and can stick himself to walls). Not exactly a promising development for her career.
The NCD’s jurisdiction is anything having to do with nursery rhyme or storybook characters. Located in tiny, cramped, outdated offices, this joke of the Reading Police Department is expected to be disbanded at any moment. But when Humpty Dumpty is found dead at the base of one of his favorite walls, shattered to pieces, the NCD finds itself with a chance to prove its worth after all.
Jasper Fforde is a delight to read. His imagination must be an incredibly fascinating place, because the stories that come out of it and the worlds in which those stories are set are some of the quirkiest and most fun I’ve encountered. The Big Over Easy is no exception.
I actually expected to like The Big Over Easy less than The Eyre Affair, owing to the fact that more traditionally plotted mysteries don’t tend to be my favorite sort of book. But what I liked about The Big Over Easy — and where The Eyre Affair fell just a hair short — is its cohesiveness. Both novels, of course, stretch beyond the realm of the realistic, but where The Eyre Affair dipped into strange technology and even something like magic, The Big Over Easy simply incorporated nursery rhyme characters alongside human beings. Odd as it may sound, I had to suspend less of my disbelief in the latter case.
I love the way Fforde steeps his novels in little side-note references. As you’d expect, The Big Over Easy is full of allusions to various nursery rhymes, fairytales, and the like. If you’d never heard of anything Fforde refers to, I bet the book would seem quite strange indeed. But when you pick up on the clues, you end up snickering quietly to yourself on a fairly regular basis. Familiar characters show up in unfamiliar roles. The Gingerbread Man, for instance, is a psychotic serial killer, while Georgio Porgio is the former head of a mafia-like crime syndicate. (Both, you’ll be happy to know, are behind bars.) The Three Little Pigs were recently — and unsuccessfully — prosecuted by the NCD for murdering the Wolf. And Jack has an uncanny habit of unintentionally killing giants (or, as he insists, one giant and several very tall people).
The mystery component was quite entertaining, too. I had no idea where it was going (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much, as I’m a terrible mystery solver). There were so many twists and layers that eventually I figured Fforde was out of options. He wasn’t, of course, and at the end everything made sense. I mean, the actual plot points were out there — I’d expect nothing less from Fforde — but it all hung together quite well.
Reader Simon Prebble did an excellent job bringing The Big Over Easy to life. His inflections often highlighted humor I might have missed in writing, and his lovely accent fit the setting nicely. I’d been warned that Fforde on audio can be a little hard to follow, but I didn’t have any trouble. I’m hoping my library has others of his so that I can keep going with both the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series.
The Verdict: Enjoyable
I think The Big Over Easy would be an excellent first Jasper Fforde novel, if you’ve been meaning to give him a try. It’s fun, it’s quirky, and it’s engaging. It also seems to be a fairly good taste of what Fforde’s writing is like. As long as you can handle a little weird in your novels, you should be good to go!
What books do you love that blend reality with make-believe in a particularly engaging, clever way?