The Big Over Easy was not my first foray into the brilliant wacky mind of Jasper Fforde (I’ve read several of the Thursday Next books, with the two newest in my queue for this year), but it was my first time exploring the world of the Nursery Crime Division. The book follows Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his new and somewhat reluctant partner, Detective Sergeant Mary Mary.
DI Jack Spratt is a bit of an outcast in the Reading police department because the crimes he solves don’t make good stories for the Amazing Crimes publication. In this world, justice is not as important as good copy. When Humpty Dumpy is found dead, though, it begins a chain of events and intrigue that keep you guessing for the rest of the book. How was Wee Willy Winky’s death related to Humpty’s? How will the beanstalk come into play? Will DI Jack Spratt get into the guild of detectives? The book is first and foremost a murder mystery, but it’s a roller coaster ride of fun along the way.
DI Spratt’s cohorts in the NCD range from fairy tale characters (Gretel) to an alien robot sort of thing named Ashley. Prometheus takes up lodgings in the Spratt house and a foot museum plays a pivotal role in the town of Reading. It’s hard to discuss Fforde’s works with those who haven’t read him before, as it can come across as silly. It’s anything but silly though. There’s an intelligence to his writing that is somehow enhanced by his chosen subject matter. He’s writing humor but with a vast knowledge of the world he’s created and the sources that inspired it. There were obviously numerous references to nursery rhyme characters and fairy tales and I know I didn’t even catch them all. I found myself laughing out loud at times, but I was also completely engrossed in the mystery. I couldn’t wait to find out who really did it.
Fforde messes with his audience quite a few times in the book. You think it’s solved, or nearly there, but no – that wasn’t the right answer. And it keeps going. I was never disappointed that the book continued as I could have existed in this fantastical version of the UK for quite a lot longer. The hero is the most average of Joes who is one of the last cops actually seeking justice in this world. And he does so with everyone more or less against him for most of the book. DI Jack Spratt gets his man in the end and it was a joyful romp to get there with him.