Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy is the first in a series of "Nursery Crime" tales by Jasper Fforde and was originally published in 2005.

Set in the town of Reading in modern day England, The Big Over Easy follows Detective Inspector (DI) Jack Spratt, Sergeant Mary Mary, and the rest of the staff at the Nursery Crime Division (NCD) as they unravel the string of clues surrounding the death of Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysisu Stuyvesant van Dumpty, also known simply to his friends and business associates as "Humpty Dumpty."

While the story centers around Humpty's death and the police investigation that ensues, there are also several subplots. Most of these involve a cast that resemble characters from age-old nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and Greek Myths (i.e. three bags of wool, a bean stalk, and a Titan who stole fire from Zeus, just to name a few). But the biggest subplot revolves around the rivalry between DI Spratt and Detective Chief Inspector Friedland Chymes, who was once Spratt’s partner, but has moved on to “bigger and better things” including being the darling of the local media and a member of the elite "Guild of Detectives." Chymes despises Spratt and as the story progresses it becomes apparent he will stop at nothing to gain control of the Humpty case... even if it means closing down the NCD and putting an end to Spratt's career.

Although categorized as a science-fiction/mystery (the entire story is set in an alternative reality), The Big Over Easy is not a children's story. The story content and plot are dark in tone (graphic detail of a couple murder scenes) and the dialog has a moderate amount of profanity.

That aside, at 400 pages Jasper Fforde's writing is generally easy to follow, the mystery is truly puzzling, and the end, despite some silliness, includes a traditional reveal. I only have two complaints and both have to do with this book being written in an alternative reality.

First, I found the newspaper clippings included at the beginning of each chapter distracting from the story. It almost felt as though Fforde, in his exuberance for detail, got carried away with too much detail. I found myself skimming the clippings in order to hurry up and get to the next paragraph involving the main plot. Unfortunately I also, from time to time, found it difficult to keep track of all the details in the alternative reality world. But maybe this is less of a problem later in the series?

Overall I found The Big Over Easy a clever, but quirky story. It reminded me a little of the animated films Shrek or Hoodwinked, but only in the fact that both movies and this book pull much (if not all) of the cast from famous folklore resulting in an unorthodox, yet entertaining mystery.

On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent, I would rate The Big Over Easy a 3.5. I liked it, but there were certainly aspects that I wasn’t crazy about. Still, I do plan to read Fforde's next "Nursery Crime" novel which involves a blonde and a few bears (sound familiar?), but I am not in a hurry.

This is a series I’d advise borrowing vs. buying...unless you have a taste for quirky books.

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