Humpty Dumpty falls off a wall to his death, but was it murder or suicide or accident? That’s up to Officers Jack Spratt and Mary Mary of Reading’s Nursery Crime Division to determine, if fellow officer and top story detective of Amazing Crimes, Friedland Chymes, doesn’t steal the case from them first.
Rumpelstiltskin and illegal straw-to-gold operations. A neurotic mad scientist psychologist who grafts kitten heads on haddock bodies. A religious/political man similar to the Pope called the Jellyman. A verruca the size of a small child. A womanizing 4.5 ft tall egg-man. Suicide by cookie dough mix. This is just a small spattering of what you’ll find in The Big Over Easy.
Jasper Fforde = genius. Seriously. Who else can throw together coherent plotlines that weave everything from a giant beanstalk to an immortal Titan to Dr. Caligari to the infamous crime boss Giorgio Porgia into a single story? Not to mention the dig at himself as actress Lola Vavoom retired from her movie career after her appearance in the disastrous movie, The Eyre Affair.
It’s almost impossible to think how to review this book! There’s just so much in it, both plot-wise and otherwise. I admit, at first I wasn’t sure about this book. I prefer the literary references from the Thursday Next books to the nursery rhymes and fairy tales of this world. By about halfway through the book, though, I was sold. I slowed down – I’d tried to read it too fast – and then I started laughing. Fforde is a master of irony and humor.
But even in all the comedy, there are lots of little issues touched on, the same as in the Thursday Next books. The detectives in Reading not only have to solve their crimes, but have to solve them in a way that’ll make good stories for readers. All sorts of weird laws have been enacted, such as dog-walkers can be fined for finding bodies because that’s too cliché and overused. Chymes – who is very much like Captain Hammer – is very good at solving crimes in intricate, ridiculously-complex ways, which makes good stories, even if they are embellished a bit. Jack Spratt, on the other hand, gets no respect because he has no flare for intricate solutions and instead just solves crimes. I find this emphasis on publicity-comes-first crime-solving very reminiscent of some of the awful techniques of modern media – anything to get a story (Dateline immediately comes to mind).
There are other things touched on here, but many of them would involve spoilers so I’m going to keep my mouth shut on them. Point is – the book is more than it seems to be, although one could read it for the mystery and humor alone. It reads like an old detective novel more than a modern murder mystery, which I loved. As with other Fforde novels I’ve read, I’m sure I missed 3/4ths of the references, but I loved the ones I did catch.
All in all, this was a fun book once I slowed down and let myself read it at a more leisurely pace. I love Fforde’s wit, humor, and the amazing way he manages to bring SO MANY THINGS into a plot and yet make them all completely coherent/relevant.
Quick question for the Fforde fans out there: In the last chapter, the first two sentences have a bunch of spoonerisms in them (“hother’s mouse” “mull foon” etc). They seem to have nothing to do with the book itself, just randomly thrown in. I seem to remember seeing something like that in one of his other books, equally random and unrelated to the plot, but I could be remembering wrong. Is this normal for Fforde? Or is there something about this book that I missed, that would make said spoonerisms relevant?