Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

It was with much anticipation I opened the cover to Jasper Fforde's latest, The Big Over Easy. Fforde has taken a break from the Thursday Next books to focus on nursery crimes starring Detective Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary. The story takes place in a world where the best detectives solve crimes for Amazing Crime Stories serialization and police work is rated not on how well the work was done but on what the detective's Amazing Crimes ranking is. Jack has been working in the Nursery Crimes Division in Reading for 20 years. The story begins with Jack failing to win a conviction of the Three Little Pigs for murdering Mr. Wolff. As a result the always underfunded and understaffed NCD is on the verge of being closed and Jack a hair's breadth away from early retirement. Mary Mary, hoping to get a job working with Detective Inspector Chymes who is handsome and dashing and rated second in Amazing Crime Stories, transfers to Reading from Basingstoke. She is quickly disappointed by being assigned to Spratt. On Mary's first day she and Spratt are called out to Grimm's Road where they find Humperdinck Jehosaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty shattered into little pieces in the backyard of Mother Hubbard's boarding house. It looks like a cut and dry case of suicide until the forensic report comes back and shows that he was shot. The murder investigation begins. The book moves along at a good pace with lots of quirky characters and jokes on nearly every page. Most are funny but sometimes it felt like Fforde was trying a little too hard. When it's going well there are great lines like "At that moment a cloud of cold germs loosely held together in the shape of a human being walked in through the door." When it isn't going well be prepared for some groaners. Beside the main story line there are several side stories like the giant beanstalk sprouting in Jack's mother's garden and the titan Prometheus putting the moves on Jack's daughter Pandora. It's a big jumble that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't but it all gets wrapped up nicely in the end. All in all I'd say The Big Over Easy was an enjoyable read, not fantastic, but entertaining no-brainer reading. And, according to the end page of the book, we can expect another Jack Spratt investigation, The Fourth Bear next summer. I'd prefer Thursday, but will make do.