The Big Over Easy is a fun book, set in the same universe as Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. To be fair, I’m not an expert mystery reader. I don’t care enough about the puzzle and seldom solve it ahead of the sleuth. I read for the setting and the characters.
This book delivers both in abundance. Fforde has created a world where the NCD (Nursery Crime Division) headed by Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, investigates the macabre intersection of nursery rhymes and crime. Forensic pathologist, Mrs. Singh, must determine the cause of death when Humpty Dumpty, a lovable crook and incurable womanizer, falls from the wall.
Absurd humour abounds and Fforde is full of surprises. The greatest is how realistic and compelling his main characters are, despite their absurd environment. Police officer Mary Mary, Spratt’s new assistant, wants to be promoted, out of the Nursery Crime Division. She had applied for the job expecting to work for famous Chief Detective Inspector Friedland Chymes, darling of “Amazing Crime Stories” magazine. Instead, she is assigned to Spratt who lacks budget, office space and any kind of status within the police department.
In this world, police budgets and status depend less on catching the perpetrators than on selling your story to TV and the crime magazines. Political shenanigans abound. The old boys’ club is “The Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives,” founded by Sherlock’s OS (Official Sidekick) Doctor Watson. Members include: Miss Maple, Hercule Porridge, Lord Peter Flimsey, Father Broom. No boring detectives, aliens or writers of dull prose may join the Guild, which has the power to skew police budgets and sway juries.
Jack knows he doesn’t stand a chance of joining. The Guild scorns nursery crime and Jack isn’t interesting enough. He is a happy family man with a reputation as a giant killer. His conviction record is low, his policing budget near nonexistent.
In desperation, his wife applies to the Guild on his behalf, making him out to be a slick playboy who drives a Rolls Royce. Jack, reluctantly, plays along. After all, with the Guild behind him, Jack could have gotten justice for the Big Bad Wolf. Without it, the Three Little Pigs get away with murder.