The scary part of THE BIG OVER EASY by the terribly silly Jasper
Fforde is how many references come back. Between fairy tales and
nursery rhymes, many of which your basic middle-aged reader (hi!)
would like to forget (not because they're bad but because your
basic middle-aged reader needs more space in her brain), there are
giggles on every page. To the fans of Fforde's earlier Thursday
Next adventures, this might not be very surprising. And while this
book lacks the --- if you will --- tone of sophistication of those
other efforts (I say that because getting all the yucks there
requires a knowledge of English literature, while this novel
necessitates a memory of early childhood rhymes and storybooks),
it's still awfully enjoyable. It's a bit more linear --- if that
word works in describing Fforde's world. It's a police procedural,
a murder mystery of a sort.
Detective Inspector Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division.
It is distinctly the non-glamour police division of the Reading
Police Department --- lots of hard work for little reward. His
cases go to court, but he seldom gets convictions; who could blame
those pigs for trying to kill that wolf? In this universe, the
police are judged by the reading public, and if their cases are
glamorous and exciting, it's a tough audience. Besides, there's
some story going around that Jack once killed a giant --- in
self-defense, of course, but it has tainted his career path. And
he's up against the amazing Friedland Chimes.
Spratt is having problems getting the respect he would like. He's
not good fodder for the publishers --- he doesn't drink, he has a
happy family life, and he is overshadowed by the far more arcane
adventures of the hugely-egoed Chimes.
While Spratt and his new assistant, Mary Mary, are investigating
the baffling death of Humpty Dumpty (the crime scene is a challenge
since so much of the victim has washed away), THE BIG OVER EASY is
a story of money laundering, deceit, lovers all over the place, and
an odd and unlikely police division of dedicated, weird cops. Mixed
in with the narrative is what I tend to think of as "stuff that
only Fforde can do." The newest boarder in the Spratt household is
Prometheus. Yes, that Prometheus, the god who gave fire to
mankind. There's a creepy mad scientist, a fine medical examiner
named Dr. Singh (she's about as normal as anyone in this book), and
notorious crime boss Giorgio Porgia (whose organizational skills
are so superb that he's hired to run the prison in which he's
confined). Spratt interviews a landlady, a Mrs. Hubbard, who has
several dogs, none of whom appears to have had anything to
Each chapter is headed by a paragraph from the latest Amazing
Crime Stories, which might feature an adventure by "Inspector
Dogleash" or "Miss Maple." Officer Gretel of the NCD has the last
name of "Kandelstyk-Maeker," and of course there are the in-jokes.
One excerpt from a 2003 news story reports that the "albino
community demanded action yesterday to stop their unfair depiction
as yet another movie featured an albino as a deranged hitman."
Don't you just hate when that happens? And happily, another story
reports the outlawing of "the identical twin" plot, which received
strong objection from the Guild of Detectives, who insisted on
their right to use "whatever plot contrivances come to hand."
I admit that one often-used word throughout the book was one I had
to look up. I'm not sure whether it was British English vs.
American English, or if the author just wanted to slightly disguise
something. Anything is possible --- after all, this is a
Jasper Fforde book.
Reviewed by Andi Shechter (firstname.lastname@example.org) on December 22, 2010