Anyone who has read Jasper Fforde’s literary mysteries beginning with The Eyre Affair knows that the author has an amazing imagination and a nearly uncanny ability to blend police work with convoluted fantasy. Those who are fans of his first series featuring Thursday Next will be excited to learn that Fforde has begun a new series of books with nursery rhyme character Jack Spratt as the main detective. This series of novels, unlike the Thursday Next books set in a world that blended seamlessly with classic literature, is set in a world where a variety of nursery rhyme characters interact with regular humans. Therefore, occurrences like giant beanstalks, talking animals and other fanciful things are common.
In The Big Over Easy, the first book of the series, Jack Spratt and his new partner Mary Mary are investigating the murder of Humpty Dumpty, a philandering older man (well, egg) who fell off his wall and cracked into hundreds of pieces. Jack is a veteran of the Nursery Crime Division, a portion of the local police force that generally gets no respect from the rest of the force, especially those officers who are part of the Guild of Detectives and aim to solve cases solely for the purpose of writing them up in Amazing Crime Stories. Mary Mary, whose dream is to work for one of the most famous members of the Guild of Detectives, Friedland Chymes, reluctantly joins Spratt in his quest to find Humpty’s killer and gain some respect in the detecting world.
Like the Thursday Next books, The Big Over Easy is an amazing feat of imagination. Nursery rhyme characters and situations blend with regular life in interesting and sometimes very funny ways. The main characters, while maybe not the easiest to relate to since they live in a very different world, are very interesting, and Jack Spratt is the perfect underdog to root for. Mary Mary goes through a transformation in the book that makes it easier to like her, and I look forward to seeing how she grows and changes in future books. Secondary characters are, without exception, amusing and interesting and add color to each situation they appear in.
One of my problems with the Thursday Next novels is that you need to have a least a working knowledge of classic literature to fully understand and appreciate the books. The Big Over Easy is much more accessible because almost everyone knows at least a few nursery rhymes. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be able to appreciate the situations and characters in the book. The Big Over Easy is also a bit more light-hearted and fun than the Next books, which appeals to me.
My only gripe with The Big Over Easy is that Fforde brings in two other groups of “beings”—mythological characters and aliens—that distract from the nursery rhyme premise. While the vast majority of characters come from nursery rhymes, there is one titan (Prometheus) and one alien (Ashley) that appear, and they seem very out of place. Fforde should have either expanded on these two groups or saved them for a future book.
Overall, The Big Over Easy is a fantastic achievement that I believe exceeds the Thursday Next novels. It is recommended for any mystery lovers, especially those who like their mysteries with a lot of humor and a big dose of imagination.