Jasper Fforde loves books. That fact has been widely noted over the years. While Fforde is most famously known for his Thursday Next series, which features a determined, resolute literary detective who also moonlights inside books to solve crimes, plot holes and apprehend page running characters, my first foray into Fforde’s work started with The Big Over Easy. Despite slogging through the classics as an English major back during school, I didn’t seem to know as many as what would be required for Thursday Next. The Big Over Easy was definitely more of a draw. I mean, how many people out there have read Jane Austin? A few of you, good. Now how many of you have heard about Humpty Dumpty and his poor relationship with walls? Yep, everyone.
But this isn’t a children’s book. The Big Over Easy takes us to the city of Reading, where nursery rhyme characters are real, animals talk and take on human characteristics, where the most horrible criminal ever seen is a six foot tall gingerbread man and where in the world of law enforcement, it always pays to keep in mind the eventual TV or movie adaptation of your adventures.
First: This is my first book review for Faceplant! Oh yeah, we’re rocking this like an eighth grade honor roller. I’ve typically shied away from doing book reviews in the past, but Biblionerdette has been posting them on here left and right so I figured I’d write one for the heck of it. Come to think of it, it was this line of thinking that lead to my first movie review, which I have grown to resent, since more people find us by searching for the Fifth Element than like all our other posts ever and I can’t figure out why. It keeps me up at night. Anyway, I’m not one to back down from making the same mistake twice, so onward!
The Big Over Easy begins with Mary Mary. She’s heard all the jokes at this point having to do with her contrariness, so please don’t bug her with any of that. Anyway, Mary is a Detective Sergeant who was transferred to Reading after having a huge falling out with her former boss, DCI Flowwe. To Mary, the transfer is a double-edged sword. On one hand, being sent to Reading could possibly be the worst thing that could happen for her career, which is something she worries about constantly. On the other hand, Reading is also home to Friedland Chymes, the charismatic and over dramatic detective who has been published hundreds of times in Amazing Crime Stories, who has been Mary’s personal hero and motivation to become a detective herself. Chymes’ cases are always of such complexity high drama he has his own personal entourage of fans, groupies and tag alongs, and he is rated number two at the Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives.
The idea of getting a placement on Chymes’ team is everything she could ever hope for. Much to her dismay, however, she ends up with the Nursery Crime Division instead. Run by the fatherly Jack Spratt, who woefully has no marital problems and drives the most boring car he can find instead of a guild preferred sports car, the NCD keeps the nurseries in line. We’re talking about things like arresting Rumplestiltskin for setting up illegal straw into gold spinning dens, charging farmers’ wives with cruelty for chopping off the tails of blind mice, tracking down and capturing the elusive and psychotic Gingerbread Man, and much more besides. At the start of The Big Over Easy, the NCD has seen better days, mostly stemming from a failed attempt to convict the three little pigs of the premeditated murder of Mr. Wolff (Do you know how long it takes to boil a pot of water that big? A long freakin’ time.)
Reading has a rich history, which is pretty confusing since I’m pretty sure Fforde was making it up on the fly as he went. You don’t have to worry about missing something, however, since there is a short paragraph at the beginning of each chapter that gives us another, deeper look into Reading’s history. The NCD has always been woefully underfunded, aliens walk among us and are boring, and being published in Amazing Crime Stories is more important than a successful conviction. The NCD is Jack’s life as well as the death of Mary’s career, so they don’t really see eye to eye too often.
Then, one night after a fancy ball to benefit a local foot care company, Jack receives the call. The big egg is down. Humpty Dumpty, known as the fall guy. Over the past six decades he has been questioned by police over a hundred times in everything from exploiting the market on foreign minerals to extortion. Humpty was down in the dumps recently, and not just another ex girlfriend. Easter is a pretty frightening time to be a large egg, when you really stop to think about it. But was it really suicide? Or something more?
Jack’s superiors want an open and shut case, a final, positive nail in the NCD’s coffin. However, Jack is nothing if not thorough. And what he eventually discovers may actually rock the foundation of Reading’s upper class and make one of Friedland Chymes’ confusing adventures seem like an easy read.
Of course, that all comes second to Jack’s home life. The Spratt family needs a new lodger in their house, and Jack’s mother needs him to sell her prized cow painting for money to buy new knickknacks on Ebay. Sure, the antique dealer can only give him some mysterious beans in exchange for them, but hey, they might come in handy…
The Big Over Easy seems like a very simple book. At its heart, I suppose, it is. But minor plot elements have a way of coming back suddenly in a way that only someone who has studied countless mystery novels knows to do. Plus, The Big Over Easy is very aware that it is a book and commonly makes fun of some of the staples of the mystery novel genre. If you keep your eyes open you’ll find a lot of throwbacks to literature, and that’s not counting all the nursery rhyme characters you’ll find.
For anyone who is interested in Fforde’s work, but who doesn’t want to give Thursday Next a whirl just yet, The Big Over Easy is a good springboard. There’s… just one thing you should know. The book is a huge, running joke that was established in the Thursday Next series. I won’t give away in what form in here, and reading Thursday Next isn’t necessary to get all the jokes (there was one part in the sequel to The Big Over Easy, titled The Fourth Bear, that made me pause and scratch my head because it seemed out of place. I read Thursday Next after that. It was an epiphany moment).
Anyway, there’s no better way to revisit all those old fairy tales than to see Jack and Mary lay down the law.
Filed under: Books | Tagged: books, fairy tales, Gingerbreadman, Humpty Dumpty, Jack Spratt, Jasper Fforde, literacy, Mary Mary, mystery, mystery novels, reading, The Big Over Easy, The Fourth Bear, Thursday Next |