The Big Over Easy is the first in Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series. I previously reviewed The Eyre Affair, the first in Fforde’s Thursday Next series about a literary detective.
The Big Over Easy is a satirical detective novel based on nursery rhymes, fables, and other stories.
When Humpty Dumpty’s body is found by a wall, following a great fall, it is up to the work of Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Sergeant Mary Mary to investigate what happened. Did he fall? Did he jump? Was he pushed?
Similar to The Eyre Affair, Fforde’s intertextual references to other works of fiction are brilliant and his writing is full of irony and satirical quips.
It took a little while for the narrative to progress, but once it did, I really liked the application of detective and crime genre conventions to something as trivial as a nursery rhyme story.
In particular, Fforde satirises the blend between crime fiction and crime reports; Spratt’s superiors encourage him to solve the mystery in a way that will create great publishing material. However, Spratt wants to be an honest detective and only deal with facts. This mocks how, especially in the Victorian period, crime fiction such as the beloved Sherlock Holmes stories, and real police reports could be published in the same magazine, meaning at times readers did not know which accounts were fictional, and which were fact.
I enjoyed following the investigation, as Spratt works how Humpty died, but I didn’t especially enjoy the “background” narrative as much – Jack’s daughter begins a flirtation with Prometheus, the legendary Titan said to have created mankind from clay, and Jack’s mother accidentally grows a beanstalk. For me, these aspects of the narrative felt a bit too ridiculous. Which was probably the point.
The novel didn’t end how I expected it to, which was a pleasant surprise. The “whodunnit” narrative kept me guessing throughout, and wasn’t as predictable as I thought it would be.
Personally however, I think Fforde could have made The Big Over Easy even darker; if he had retold the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme as a gritty, realistic, crime thriller, in the style of someone like Peter James, that would have been fantastic.