Newest Review: ... So was it just a tragic accident? The Nursery Crime Division don't think so and with them on the case the investigation has many twists an... more
Did he fall, or was he pushed?
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde
Member Name: calypte
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde
Date: 05/09/07, updated on 05/09/07 (201 review reads)
Advantages: Cleverer than expected
Disadvantages: Limited scope of nursery rhyme theme
Welcome to a mad world where reality is more or less as we'd recognise it - except that nursery rhyme characters form a (persecuted, they'd claim!) minority of society. Here there is a need for legislation to protect anthropomorphic animals with human-like intelligence, such as the (in)famous Three Little Pigs - protect them from being eaten, that is! Forget kosher - check that your morning bacon sarnie used to 'oink' rather than speak!
So back to Humpty... A giant, shattered shell found at the bottom of a wall. Can Jack Spratt, head of NCD, solve the case? More importantly, can he get a good, dramatic story out of it - for here, the solving of the crime is secondary to the publication rights... If Jack can't solve this one and make at least a magazine sub-feature, it might just be the end of NCD, especially after the debacle of the Three Pigs case (charge: murder of one B.B. Wolf; verdict: not guilty). Trouble is, he might be the only straight copper left on the Reading force - albeit one with an undeserved reputation as a 'Giant killer', as after all, three of the four unfortunates 'were just tall'.
It took me a while to get into this book. For a start, it's in a pretty much identical style to Fffffforde's previous Thursday Next series, and so felt entirely unoriginal - copying his own template, so to speak. I didn't feel impressed. And then there's the 'hook': nursery rhymes. Such as Jack's need to cut the fat off his bacon butties, or Little Bo Peep regularly reporting missing sheep (to the NCD, naturally). The first few times I read about Inspectors Moose and Rhombus, it was funny. It gets old quickly, however. And then there were Fffforde's trademark pun names: I knew 'Friedland Chymes' meant *something*, but for the life of me I couldn't think what kind of food 'landchymes' might be, either side of frying. Sigh.
Then a funny thing (!) started to happen... as the NCD's investigation picks up pace, and the details of Humpty's death start to be revealed, I found it hard to stop at the end of a chapter. I mean, the one I've just finished throws up another question, perhaps there'll be an answer in the next one. They're fairly short chapters, too, so another one wouldn't hurt... Yup, that's me, pretty addicted! :)
As seen in the Thursday Next series, each chapter is preceded by a short 'extract' from some fictitious book-world publication, or newspaper cutting. I'm in two minds about this. On one hand, they can feel like annoying little breaks in the story - as I said, it was so easy to say 'just one more chapter!' and more often than not it was the little pre-chapter blurb that stopped me (hmm... might not be a bad thing!). On the other hand, with this being a 'new world' (it seems related to Thursday Next's Swindon - and indeed, 'The Eyre Affair' has been made into a movie here - but I'm not sure if it's perhaps a dimensional cousin?), there is some genuinely useful info. For instance, with all the talk of letting the Three Little Pigs 'fry' for the death of a certain wolf, I did wonder about bacon sarnies in this world. A couple of chapters on, we're treated to an extract from the Anthropomorphic Character Protection Law of 1962 (if it can't talk, you can eat it!).
Alongside the investigation into Humpty Dumpty's death, we're also finding out about the rivalry between Jack Spratt and top cop/media darling Friedland Chymes; new recruit DS Mary Mary's introduction to the not exactly well-respected NCD; and just generally about this world where Old Mother Hubbard really does keep checking those cupboards, 5ft eggs are resp... urm, members of society, and Jack's new lodger has spent the last several hundred years chained to a rock having his liver pecked out daily (that'd be the immortal Titan Prometheus, btw!).
The Big Over Easy (TBOE) may be a comedy/detective tale, but it has a sharp bite of satire which stops it feeling at all childish. The press come in for a lambasting, and there's surely a large dig from a setup where the police are more interested in the subsequent TV drama value of their cases than the actual solving of crimes. Racism and integration issue crop up via both the nursery characters, but also the totally random alien on the force - an element that seemed to swerve 'off topic', but provided enough funny moments (alien making tea: "There was no milk, so I used white emulsion paint instead") that I was glad of his (disappointingly brief) inclusion.
Along with aliens, the author also swerves from his main theme with the odd fairy tale and Ancient Greek hero, which while feeling a little bit like mixing metaphors, does take away from the 'sameness' of the background. The nursery rhyme theme still seems far too contrived for me to really like, but then a small mystery starts to develop around that, too...
A review quote on the back of the book claims that TBOE 'works as a detective story' - well, yes and no. No because when things are based around nursery rhymes, chances are you know what's coming... beanstalks, anyone? However, 'yes', because the bulk of the mystery comes from twists and turns in direction - Fffforde keeps suspense by only slowly revealing the information we need to ask questions - even if the answers may then be guessable. Even then, the 'whodunit' aspect remains intriguing longer than the whys and wherefores. And even when we reach a slightly predictable end, there's another veer off in a direction I just didn't see coming.
TBOE already has a published sequel, The Fourth Bear, and the back of that book tells me that Jack and Mary will return again in 'The Last Great Tortoise Race'. I'll be curious to see how much more mileage Fffffforde can get out of the characters, or indeed how many more nursery rhymes he can find for source material. On the other hand, TBOE was an enjoyable read, and perhaps that bit more accessible than The Eyre Affair, not relying on knowledge of classic literature for the in-jokes.
Recommended, both for fans of Thursday Next, and those who have yet to try Ffffforde's writing style, but are up for a bit of wackiness.
Paperback 398 pages (Hodder 2006)
First released in 2005
RRP: £6.99 but currently available for £3.99 from Amazon - go go go!! And tell them the Gingerbread Man sent you ;)
Summary: Welcome to the wacky world of the Reading Police Nursery Crimes Division!