The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime Series #1)

The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime Series #1)

by Jasper Fforde

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Overview

Enter the world of the Nursery Crime Division in this novel from the author of the Thursday Next series and Early Riser

Jasper Fforde's bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He's investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

"[Forde] knows a thing or two about leaping into new worlds. . . . It's hard not to see what all the enthusiasm is about." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"A wonderfully readable riot." -The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143037231
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/25/2006
Series: Nursery Crime Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 161,882
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling "Thursday Next" series. He is also the author of the "Nursery Crime" series.

Hometown:

Brecon, Powys, Wales, United Kingdom

Date of Birth:

January 11, 1961

Place of Birth:

London, United Kingdom

Education:

Left school at 18

Read an Excerpt

"It was the week following Easter"

If Queen Anne hadn’t suffered so badly from Gout and Dropsy, Reading might never have developed at all. In 1702 the unhealthy Queen Anne, looking for a place to ease her Royal infirmities, chanced upon Bath; and where Royalty goes, so too does society. In consequence, Reading, up until that time a small town on a smaller tributary of the Thames, became a busy staging post on the Bath road, later to become the A4, and ultimately the M4. The town was enriched by the wool trade and later played host to several large firms that were to become household names. By the time Huntley & Palmers biscuits began here in 1822, Simonds brewery was already well established; and when Suttons Seeds began in 1835 and Spongg's footcare in 1853, the town's prosperity was assured.

-excerpt from A History of Reading
It was the week following Easter in Reading, and no one could remember the last sunny day. Gray clouds swept across the sky, borne on a chill wind that cut like a knife. It seemed that spring had forsaken the town. The drab winter weather had clung to the town like a heavy smog, refusing to relinquish the season. Even the early bloomers were in denial. Only the bravest crocuses had graced the municipal park, and the daffodils, usually a welcome splash of color after a winter of grayness, had taken one sniff at the cold, damp air and postponed blooming for another year. A police officer was gazing with mixed emotions at the dreary cityscape from the seventh floor of Reading Central Police Station. She was thirty and attractive, dressed up and dated down, worked hard and felt awkward near anyone she didn't know. Her name was Mary. Mary Mary. And she was from Basingstoke, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

"Mary?" said an officer who was carrying a large potted plant in the manner of someone who thinks it is well outside his job description. "Superintendent Briggs will see you now. How often do you water these things?"

"That one?" replied Mary without emotion. "Never. It’s plastic."

"I’m a policeman," he said unhappily, "not a sodding gardener."

And he walked off, mumbling darkly to himself.

She turned from the window, approached Briggs's closed door and paused. She gathered her thoughts, took a deep breath and stood up straight. Reading wouldn't have been everyone's choice for a transfer, but for Mary, Reading had one thing that no other city possessed: DCI Friedland Chymes. He was a veritable powerhouse of a sleuth whose career was a catalog of inspired police work, and his unparalleled detection skills had filled the newspaper columns for over two decades. Chymes was the reason Mary had joined the police force in the first place. Ever since her father had bought her a subscription to Amazing Crime Stories when she was nine, she'd been hooked. She had thrilled at "The Mystery of the Wrong Nose," been galvanised by "The Poisoned Shoe" and inspired by "The Sign of Three and a Half." Twenty-one years further on, Friedland was still a serious international player in the world of competitive detecting, and Mary had never missed an issue. Chymes was currently ranked by Amazing Crime second in their annual league rating, just behind Oxford's ever-popular Inspector Moose.

"Hmm," murmured Superintendent Briggs, eyeing Mary's job application carefully as she sat uncomfortably on a plastic chair in an office that was empty apart from a desk, two chairs, them- and a trombone lying on a tattered chaise longue.

"Your application is mostly very good, Mary," he said approvingly. "I see you were with Detective Inspector Hebden Flowwe. How did that go?"

It hadn’t gone very well at all, but she didn’t think she’d say so.

"We had a fairly good clear-up rate, sir."

"I’ve no doubt you did. But more important, anything published?"

It was a question that was asked more and more in front of promotion boards and transfer interviews and listed in performance reports. It wasn't enough to be a conscientious and invaluable assistant to one's allotted inspector—you had to be able to write up a readable account for the magazines that the public loved to read. Preferably Amazing Crime Stories, but, failing that, Sleuth Illustrated.

"Only one story in print, sir. But I was the youngest officer at Basingstoke to make detective sergeant and have two commendations for brav-"

"The thing is," interrupted Briggs, "is that the Oxford & Berkshire Police prides itself on producing some of the most readable detectives in the country." He walked over to the window and looked out at the rain striking the glass. "Modern policing isn't just about catching criminals, Mary. It’s about good copy and ensuring that cases can be made into top-notch documentaries on the telly. Public approval is the all-important currency these days, and police budgets ebb and flow on the back of circulation and viewing figures."

"Yes, sir."

"DS Flotsam's work penning Friedland Chymes's adventures is the benchmark by which you should try to aspire, Mary. Selling the movie rights to Friedland Chymes-the Smell of Fear was a glory moment for everyone at Reading Central, and rightly so. Just one published work, you say? With Flowwe?"

"Yes, sir. A two-parter in Amazing Crime. Jan-Feb 1999 and adapted for TV."

He nodded his approval.

"Well, that’s impressive. Prime-time dramatization?"

"No, sir. Documentary on MoleCable-62."

His face fell. Clearly, at Reading they expected better things. Briggs sat down and looked at her record again.

"Now, it says here one reprimand: You struck Detective Inspector Flowwe with an onyx ashtray. Why was that?"

"The table lamp was too heavy," she replied, truthfully enough, "and if I’d used a chair, it might have killed him."

"Which is illegal, of course" added Briggs, glad for an opportunity to show off his legal knowledge. "What happened? Personal entanglements?"

"Equal blame on both sides, sir," she replied, thinking it would be better to be impartial over the whole affair. "I was foolish. He was emotionally ... dishonest."

Briggs closed the file.

"Well, I don’t blame you. Hebden was always a bit of a bounder. He pinged my partner's bra strap at an office party once, you know. She wasn't wearing it at the time," he added after a moment's reflection, "but the intention was clear."

"That sounds like DI Flowwe," replied Mary.

Briggs drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment.

"Do you want to hear me play the trombone?"

"Might it be prejudicial to my career if I were to refuse?"

"It’s a distinct possibility."

"Then I’d be delighted."

So Briggs walked over to the chaise longue, picked up the trombone, worked the slide a couple of times and blew a few notes, much to the annoyance of whoever had the office next door, who started to thump angrily on the wall.

"Drug squad," explained Briggs unhappily, putting the instrument down, "complete heathens. Never appreciate a good tune."

"I was wondering," said Mary before he had a chance to start playing again. "This detective sergeant's job I'm applying for. Who is it with?"

He looked at his watch.

"An excellent question. In ten minutes we're holding a press conference. I've a detective in urgent need of a new sergeant, and I think you'll fit the bill perfectly. Shall we?"

The pressroom was five floors below, and an expectant journalistic hubbub greeted their ears while they were still walking down the corridor. They stepped inside and stood as unobtrusively as possible at the back of the large and airy room. Mary could see from the "Oxford & Berkshire Police"-bedecked podium and high turnout that press conferences here were taken with a great deal more seriousness than she had known, which probably reflected this city's preeminence over Basingstoke when it came to serious crime. It wasn't that Reading had any more murders than Basingstoke-it just had better ones. Reading and the Thames Valley area was more of a "fairy cakes laced with strychnine" or "strangulation with a silk handkerchief" sort of place, where there were always bags of interesting suspects, convoluted motives and seemingly insignificant clues hidden in an inquiry of incalculable complexity yet solved within a week or two. By contrast, murders in Basingstoke were strictly blunt instruments, drunkenly wielded, solved within the hour-or not at all. Mary had worked on six murder investigations and, to her great disappointment, hadn’t once discovered one of those wonderful clues that seem to have little significance but later, in an epiphanic moment, turn the case on its head and throw the guilty light on someone previously eliminated from the inquiries.

She didn’t have time how to muse upon the imaginative shortcoming of Basingstoke's criminal fraternity any longer, as there was a sudden hushing of the pressmen, a burst of spontaneous applause, and a handsome man in his mid-fifties strode dramatically from a side door.

"Goodness!" said Mary. "That’s"

"Yup," said Briggs, with the pride of a father who has just seen his son win everything at sports day. "Detective Inspector Friedland Chymes."

Friedland Chymes! In person. There was a hush as the famous detective stepped up to the podium. The assembled two dozen newspapermen readied themselves, pens poised, for his statement.

Thank you for attending, he began, sweeping back his blond hair and gazing around the room with his lively blue eyes, causing flutters when they lingered ever so slightly with the women present in the room, Mary included. She found herself almost automatically attracted to him. He was strong, handsome, intelligent, fearless-the most alpha of alpha males. Working with him would be an honor.

"It was the small traces of pastry around the gunshot wound on Colonel Peabody's body that turned the case for me," began the great detective, his sonorous tones filling the air like music, "minute quantities of shortcrust whose butter/flour ratio I found to be identical to a medium-size Bowyer's pork pie. The assailant had fired his weapon through the tasty snack to muffle the sound of the shot. The report heard later was a firecracker set off by a time fuse, thus giving an alibi to the assailant, who I can reveal to you now was."

The whole room leaned forward in expectation. Chymes, his only apparent vanity a certain showmanship, paused for dramatic effect before announcing the killer.

"Miss Celia Mangersen, the victim’s niece and, unbeknownst to us all, the sole beneficiary of the missing will, which I found hidden-as expected-within a hollowed-out statuette of Sir Walter Scott. Yes, Mr. Hatchett, you have a question?"

Josh Hatchett of The Toad newspaper had raised his hand in the front row.

"What was the significance of the traces of custard found on the Colonel's sock suspender?"

Friedland raised a finger in the air.

"An excellent question, Mr. Hatchett, and one that pushed my deducting powers to the limit. Bear with me if you will while we go through the final moments of Colonel Peabody's life. Mortally wounded and with only seconds to live, he had somehow to leave a clue to his assailant's identity. A note? Of course not-the killer would find and destroy it. Guessing correctly that a murder of this magnitude would be placed in my hands, he decided to leave behind a clue that only I could solve. Knowing the Colonel's penchant for anagrams, it was but a swift move to deduct his reasoning. The sock suspender was made in France. "Custard" in French is crème anglaise-and an anagram of this is "Celia Mangerse," which not only correctly identified the killer but also told me the Colonel died before he was able to finish the anagram."

There was more applause, and he quietened everyone down before continuing.

"But since anagram-related clues are now inadmissible as evidence, we sent the pork pie off for DNA analysis and managed to pinpoint the pie shop where it was purchased. Guessing that Miss Mangersen might have an affinity for the pies, we staked out the shop in question, and yesterday evening Miss Mangersen was taken into custody, whereupon she confessed to me in a tearful scene that served as a dramatic closure to the case. My loyal, chirpy, cockney assistant and biographer DS Flotsam will of course be writing a full report for Amazing Crime Stories in due course, after the formality of a trial. Ladies and gentlemen: The case is closed!"

The assembled journalists rose as one and burst into spontaneous applause. Chymes dismissed the adulation with a modest wave of the hand and excused himself, muttering something about needing to open a hospital for orphaned sick children.

"He's amazing!" breathed Mary, somehow convincing herself-as had all the other women present-that Chymes had winked at her across the crowded room.

"I agree," replied Briggs, standing aside as the newsmen filed out, eager to get the stories into the late editions. "Don’t you love that 'the case is closed!' stuff? I wish I had a catchphrase. He’s an asset not only to us here at Reading but also to the nation-there aren't many countries that haven't requested his thoughts on some intractable and ludicrously complex inquiry.

"He's remarkable," agreed Mary.

"Indeed," went on Briggs, seemingly swept up in a paroxysm of hagiographic hero worship. "He's also a hilarious raconteur, has a golf handicap of two, was twice world aerobatic champion and plays the clarinet as well as Artie Shaw. Speaks eight languages, too, and is often consulted by the Jellyman himself on important matters of state."

"I’m going to enjoy working with him, I can see," replied Mary happily. "When do I start?"

"Chymes?" echoed Briggs with a faint yet unmistakably patronizing laugh. "Goodness gracious no! You’re not working with Chymes!"

"Who then?" asked Mary, attempting to hide her disappointment, and failing.

"Him."

Mary followed Briggs’s outstretched finger to an untidy figure who had taken his turn at the podium. He was in his mid-forties, had graying hair and one eye marginally higher than the other, giving him the lopsided look of someone deep in thought. If he was deep in thought, considered Mary, it was clearly about something more important than his personal appearance. His suit could have done with a good pressing, his hair styled any way but the way he had it. He might have shaved a little less hurriedly and made more of an attempt to exude some-any-confidence . He fumbled with his papers as he stared resignedly after the rapidly vanishing press corps.

"I see," said Mary, sounding a great deal colder than she had intended. "And who’s he?"

Briggs patted her arm in a fatherly manner. He could sense her disappointment, but it wasn’t up to him. Chymes picked his own people.

"That’s DI Jack Spratt, of the Nursery Crime Division. The NCD. You’ll be on his team. Or at least you and a few others will be the team. It's one of our smallest departments." He thought for a moment and then added, "Actually, it is our smallest department-if you don't count the night shift in the canteen."

"And his Amazing Crime Stories rating? What about that?"

"He’s not rated," replied Briggs, trying to make it sound all matter-of-fact and not the embarrassment that it was. "In fact, I don't think he's even in the Guild."

Mary stared at the shabby figure and felt her heart fall. All of a sudden DI Flowwe didn’t seem quite so bad after all.

Jack Spratt looked around the room. Most of the newsmen had by now left, and aside from Briggs and a woman Spratt didn't recognize at the door, there were only two journalists still in the room. The first was a large man named Archibald Fatquack, who was the editor of the Reading weekly gossip sheet The Gadfly. The second was a junior newshound from the Reading Daily Eyestrain, who appeared to be asleep, drunk, dead or a mixture of all three.

"Thank you all for attending this press conference," announced Jack in a somber tone to the as good-as-empty room, "I'll try not to keep you any longer than is necessary. This afternoon the Reading Central Criminal Court found the three pigs not guilty of all charges relating to the first-degree murder of Mr. Wolff."

He sighed. If he was intending it to be a dramatic statement, it wasn't, and it didn't help that no one significant was there to witness it. He could still hear the excited yet increasingly distant chatter of the newsmen as they filed down the corridor, but it was soon drowned out by Friedland’s 1932 Delage D8 Super- Sport, which started up with a throaty roar in the car park. Jack waited until he had gone, then continued on gamely, the extreme lack of interest not outwardly affecting his demeanor. After nearly twenty years, he was kind of used to it.

"Since the death by scalding of Mr. Wolff following his ill- fated climb down Little Pig C's chimney, we at the Nursery Crime Division have been following inquiries that this was not an act of self-defense but a violent and premeditated murder by three individuals who, far from being the innocent victims of wolf-porcine crime, actually sought confrontation and then acted quite beyond what might be described as reasonable self-defense.”

Jack paused for breath. If he had hoped his misgivings over the outcome of the trial would be splashed all over the paper, he was mistaken. Page sixteen of The Gadfly was about the sum total of this particular story, sandwiched ignominiously between a three-for-two Hemorrelief advert and the Very Reverend Conrad Poo’s weekly dental-hygiene column.

"Mr. Spratt," began Archibald, slowly bringing himself up to speed like a chilled gecko. "Is it true that Mr. Wolff once belonged to the Lupine Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to traditional wolfish pursuits such as the outlawed Midnight Howling?"

"Yes, I understand that to be the case," replied Jack, "but that was over fifteen years ago. We do not deny that he has been investigated over various charges of criminal damage arising from the destruction of two dwellings built by the younger pigs, nor that Mr. Wolff threatened "to eat them all up." But we saw this as an empty threat-we produced witnesses who swore that Mr. Wolff was a vegetarian of many years' standing."

"So what was your basis for a murder prosecution again?" asked Archie, scratching his head.

"We believed," replied Jack in exasperation, as he had made the same point in the same room to the same two disinterested journalists many times before, "that boiling Mr. Wolff alive was quite outside the realm of 'reasonable force' and that the fact that the large pan of water would have taken at least six hours to reach boiling point strongly indicated premeditation."

Archibald said nothing, and Jack, eager to go home, wrapped up his report.

"Despite the not-guilty verdicts, we at the NCD feel we have put up a robust case and were fully justified in our actions. To this end we will not be looking to reexamine the case or interview anyone else in connection with Mr. Wolff’s death."

Jack sighed and gazed down. He looked and felt drained.

"Personally," said Briggs in an aside, "I didn’t think the jury would go for it. The problem is that small pigs elicit a strong sympathetic reaction and large wolves don’t. There was a good case for self-defense, too—Mr. Wolff was trespassing when he climbed down the chimney. It really all hinged on whether you believed that the pigs were boiling up a huge tureen of water to do their washing. And the jury did. In only eight minutes. Do you want me to introduce you?"

"I’d prefer tomorrow, once I am officially on duty, "said Mary quickly, thinking she might have to go outside and scream or something.

Briggs picked up on her reticence.

"Don’t underestimate the Nursery Crime Division, Mary. Spratt does some good work. Not high-profile, you understand, but important. His work on the Bluebeard serial wife killings case was mostly good solid police work."

"That was Spratt?" asked Mary, something vaguely stirring in her memory. It hadn’t been in Amazing Crime, of course, just one of those "also-ran" stories you usually find dwelling in the skim-read part of the dailies, along with city prices, dog horoscopes and "true-life" photo stories. It had been under the subheading "Colorfully hirsute gentleman kills nine wives; hidden room contained gruesome secret."

"That’s him. Jack was onto Bluebeard and was well ahead of events."

"If nine wives died, he couldn’t have been that good."

"I said it was mostly good police work. More notably, he arrested Rumplestiltskin over that 'spinning straw into gold' scam and was part of the team that captured the violently dangerous psychopath the Gingerbreadman. You might have heard about Jack in connection with some giant killing, too."

Something stirred in Mary’s memory again, and she raised an eyebrow. Police officers weren’t meant to kill people if they could help it—and giants were no exception.

"Don’t worry," said Briggs, "it was self-defense. Mostly."

"Mostly?"

"The last one he ran over in a car."

"The last one?" repeated Mary incredulously, "How many have there been?"

"Four. But don’t mention it; he’s a bit sensitive over the issue."

Mary’s heart, which had already fallen fairly far, fell farther.

"Well, that’s all I have to say," said Jack to the sparsely populated room. "Are there any more questions?"

Archibald Fatquack stirred, scribbled in his pad but said nothing. The reporter from the Reading Daily Eyestrain had moved slowly forward during Jack's report, until his head was resting on the seat back in front. He began to snore.

"Good. Well, thank you very much for your time. Don't all rush to get out. You might wake Jim over there."

"I wasn’t asleep," said Jim, eyes tightly closed. "I heard every word."

"Even the bit about the bears escaping into the Oracle Center and eating a balloon seller?"

"Of course," he murmured, beginning to snore again.

Jack picked up his notes and disappeared through a side door.

"Are there usually this few people for his press conferences?" asked Mary, horrified at the prospect of the career black hole into which she was about to descend like a suicidal rabbit.

"Good Lord, no," replied Briggs in a shocked tone. "Often he has no press at all."

He looked at his watch. "Goodness, is that the time? Check in with me first thing tomorrow, and I'll introduce you to Jack. You'll like him. Not exactly charismatic, but diligent and generally correct in most some of his assumptions."

"Sir, I was wondering—"

Briggs stopped her midsentence, divining precisely what she was about to say. The reason was simple: All the detective sergeants he had ever allocated to Jack said the same thing.

"Look upon it as a baptism of fire. The NCD is good training."

"For what?"

Briggs had to think for a moment. "Unconventional policing. Your time won’t be wasted. Oh, and one other thing."

"Yes, sir?"

"Welcome to Reading."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Big Over Easy"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Jasper Fforde.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


"A wonderfully readable riot . . . [A] cleverly plotted, magically overstuffed yet amazingly digestible book . . . This summer's perfect beach read for eggheads." —The Wall Street Journal

"As if the Marx brothers were let loose in the children's section of a strange bookstore." —USA Today

"Pythonesque . . . Like the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket books, this one is abundantly playful without being truly geared for children. Anyone who has ever been read a nursery rhyme . . . can appreciate Mr. Fforde's outlandish joking." —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Humpty Dumpty’s taken the big fall—dead off a ledge, with no eyewitnesses. Was it suicide? Was it murder? In Reading, there’s only one police unit that handles this type of tale—the Nursery Crime Division. It’s up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, along with his new partner, Sergeant Mary Mary, and their investigative team, to crack the egg case.

In The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde has created a new and bizarre universe where fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and real life collide. Fresh from the success of his bestselling Thursday Next series, Fforde has now sealed his reputation as one of the brightest literary lights around. Written with a sharp eye and a bounding imagination, The Big Over Easy mingles children’s literature and crime drama to create something unique—something only Jasper Fforde could have pulled off.

Jack, his latest hero, is an underdog trying to make good. Head of the struggling Nursery Crime Division, Jack is a detective with a less than stellar conviction rate and a reputation for accidentally killing giants. What’s worse, he’s constantly in the shadow of celebrity detective, coworker, and chief rival Friedland Chymes, whose every case lands on the front page ofAmazing Crime Stories, the pinnacle of police achievement. With a large family, a demanding mother, and a car on the verge of a breakdown, Jack is a regular man beset by everyday worries—but ordinary turns to extraordinary as he begins work on the Humpty Dumpty case. The famous egg loved the ladies, lived fast, and drank hard—and it seems he’s finally paid the price. But who had a motive to kill Mr. Dumpty, and how did he do it? As Jack and Mary try to answer these questions, they’re confronted by a rogues’ gallery of nursery criminals: the murderous Gingerbreadman, a mad scientist, three conniving little pigs, and many more. With his job on the line, Jack must solve Humpty’s murder before the famous Jellyman comes to town, but the body count is climbing, with as many suspects as victims. Will he succeed? Will Mary betray him for the chance to work with Chymes? Will Jack ever be accepted into the Guild of Detectives? And what about that mysterious beanstalk growing in his mother’s yard?

Using his seemingly endless knowledge of literature of all stripes, not to mention his grand sense of the absurd, Fforde gives the impression of having had as much fun writing the book as his fans will reading it; his enthusiasm leaps off the page. Because of this, The Big Over Easy, as the first installment in the Nursery Crime series, is not only a wonderful read but also a terrific introduction to what will no doubt be many more great books to come.

 


ABOUT JASPER FFORDE

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling Thursday Next series. The Big Over Easy is the first in his new Nursery Crime series.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Of all the nursery rhyme characters Fforde reinvents, which was your favorite? Why?
     
  • Fforde begins each chapter with a relevant excerpt from a book or article. Did you enjoy this device? How does it relate to the importance the story places on the media’s reaction to crime?
     
  • The Guild of Detectives aims to provide audience-friendly crime stories—even at the expense of the facts. Are there any parallels between this and today’s TV and tabloid news culture? Which recent news stories support your argument?
     
  • Fforde plays with the idea of celebrity in various forms in The Big Over Easy, from Friedland Chymes to Lola Vavoom. Can you identify a particular message in Fforde’s depiction of these characters?
     
  • Who is the Jellyman? Whom would his real-life counterpart be?
     
  • Lord Spongg explains that, in the foot ailment industry, the money is made through the treatment, not the cure. What other business examples seem to follow this formula? What do you think of this practice?
     
  • “I’ve been underestimated before,” says Jack at several key moments. What other crime-solving characters are famous for being solitary, unappreciated, or otherwise marginalized? In what other ways does Detective Spratt fit the traditional hero model?
     
  • How does Fforde rework the usual mystery plot clichés? What about the conventions of fairy tales and nursery rhymes? Which does he use to his advantage and which does he abandon altogether?
     
  • Before Jack solves Humpty’s murder, was there a moment where you thought you knew who the killer was? Whom did you initially think the culprit would be and why
     
  • Which nursery rhyme or fairy tale would you like see Fforde tackle next? How would you update it?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 159 reviews.
    Meli_Green More than 1 year ago
    This is the first book by Jasper Fford that I've ever read. In any case, this is a very clever story. While it has all the ingredients of a good murder mystery, Fford integrates the zany element with his use of nursery rhyme characters, mythological figures, and fairytale icons that partake in the story as though it's the most normal thing in the world. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish! It takes magic to pull off this theme of three little pigs, the big bad wolf, Humpty Dumpty, and all the nursery rhyme characters being put into the "reality crime fiction novel hat"; without the reader being at all concerned about the absurdity of it all. It is dashing/ daring and soooo much fun! For instance, those CSI fans will be delighted with the new forensic technique known as the "cake-crumb scatter-pattern identification". "This works on the principle that if someone lets cake out while talking, the crumbs are ejected from the mouth at different rates, according to the syllables of words spoken. By analyzing the pattern of crumbs on the table cloth, I was able to deduce that the conversation was not about the weather, as stated, but the misdiagnosis of botulism poisoning..." So if you’re tired from some heavy reading-then go over easy, through the looking glass, and have some fun! Highly recommended!!!!!
    GhostWhoWalks More than 1 year ago
    This is one of my all-time favorite books. It is the perfect mix of absurdist humor, mystery, drama, humor, suspense, and humor. If you don't like this book you must be reading it with your eyes closed.
    MIJul More than 1 year ago
    You have to let go of reality to read Fforde, and that's what makes his books a blast to read. There's just enough reality to make them easy to understand, but also enough nonsense to make you think outside the box. I pick up his books when I want to stretch my imagination just a little and escape from same old, same old. You'll never look at Humpty Dumpty in quite the same way again after reading this. Rapunzel, Jack Spratt, the Gingerbread Man and many others - all take on new personalities and are quite different than their fairy tale images that we grew up with.
    Knitwit14 More than 1 year ago
    I adore the Tuesday Next books. (They're perfect literature for book geeks and editors. Go buy them.) When I was browsing for the long-awaited next book (Tuesday Next, First Among Sequels), I happened to see this book. I didn't buy The Big Overeasy then, but I put it on my wish list immediately. The Big Overeasy a very fun book, although not quite as good as Tuesday Next. Fforde's imaginatation and writing style are always great fun, however, and the Tuesday Next series is so very good, so I shall not count that as a major problem. This hardboiled detective novel (couldn't help myself) revolves around Jack Spratt, who must uncover the plot behind Humpty's accident. That alone makes it worth the read to me. Perfect for readers with a dry sense of humor, or those who love a slightly offbeat read. It's also a great gift for friends who love books.
    ReadingQueen12-17 More than 1 year ago
    This is the first book by Jasper Fford that I've ever read, although I've had many of his books on my "to read" list for a while. In any case, this is a very clever story. While it has all the ingredients of a good murder mystery, Fford integrates the zany element with his use of nursery rhyme characters, mythological figures, and fairytale icons that partake in the story as though it's the most normal thing in the world.
    I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish!
    Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
    Suggested With: A good memory of your favorite childhood stories!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A funny and intriguing nursery rhyme twist. Did not see that ending coming!! Definitely will read more of this authors books
    ChucklesLane More than 1 year ago
    Imagine Sherlock Holmes meets Shrek meets CSI. Very creative and believable characters! The plot thickened a little too much at one point but overall a great read! I'm definitely hooked on this new series!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book. Recently I've been delving into a lot of classics, and while they are great books, they don't have the whimsy and sheer entertainment value of this book. I loved it from start to finish and could barely put it down. It was the most enthralling book I've read in quite some time. The combination of so many nursery rhymes into the plot was enchanting. I would recommend this book to anybody looking for a little bit more fun from their reading selections.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Fforde's new series is off to an excellent start with the always enchanting Simon Prebble on the audiobook! The unique and risky device of having nursery rhyme characters play roles in a police procedural detective novel is brilliantly vindicated by this wonderful performance. He takes the unusual characters and plot and breathes life into them so that the listener is pulled into a delightful alternate reality of an amusing fantasy world with a detective story which is also a parody of both of these as well as a social commentary! I keep wondering which fantastic character I will meet next, not read about or even hear about, but meet! The voice characterizations of each of the characters are so well done that they inspire the feeling 'Oh yes! That does exactly sound like Mother Hubbard, or Prometheus, or the baby, would sound!' The pacing and nuanced delivery point up the layers of meaning so as to help to understand and appreciate the jokes and the ironies as well as engage the progression of the plot so well that there is real suspense here, quite an achievement. Special mention is due the voicing of Ashley the Alien: May this live forever in an audiobook characterization Hall of Fame.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Contrary to what most of the readers have been saying i think that Fforde does a brilliant job with handling the plot he has created. It is quite an easy book if you just pay attention to what is going on, and its quite entertaining all the way through. I thought it was lovely and i can't wait for the next book in the Nursery Crime Divison series.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed reading this book. It's smart, funny, and original. The characters are solid. I loved the cameo's of certain characters such as Miss Maple (Agatha Christie's Miss Marple) and Inspector Moose (instead of Morris). For anyone who loves a good detective novel and for those of us who can still remember the nursery rhymes our parents read to us, this is the book.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    In Reading, England Nursery Crimes Davison Detective Jack Spratt is upset that his latest open and shut homicide case fell apart as the court declared those three murdering pigs not guilty of first-degree murder of Mr. Wolff. However Jack has no time to wallow over his next meal as he is assigned the case of Humpty Dumpty who fell from a wall. --- Assigned to work with Jack is quite contrary rookie know-it-all Mary Mary. Jack and Mary, Mary dig deep into the world of yoke learning that Humpty¿s life was in the dumps. His wife divorced him for womanizing with more women than the king has horses and men. His former lovers hated him enough to want to see him fried. So many suspects wanted HD scrambled and had the opportunity as the victim liked to sit on a wall and think, but the nimble Jack and his sidekick Mary two times struggle to figure who would commit the act. --- This is a weird often satirical and amusing police procedural in which nursery rhymes serve as an alternate world. The story line is clever and literary to the point that writing about solving crime receives more accolades than solving the crime. The little encounters with nursery rhyme characters are fun sort of mindful of Shrek. However, the irony of the story line is that the sidebar nursery rhyme anecdotes though fun at times overwhelm the plot if only Jack was as nimble as Thursday. --- Harriet Klausner
    Anonymous 8 months ago
    This+was+just+a+fun%2C+sometimes+silly%2C+read.++I+really+enjoyed+it.
    cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Big Over Easy is Fforde's departure from the Thursday Next series. Inthis one, he creates another world--the one of Reading, England and theNursery Crimes division.Sergeant Mary Mary is new to the Nursery Crimes Division in Reading. It isher dream to become the sidekick of flashy Detective Friedland Chymes, heroof many crime-solving capers in Amazing Crime Stories. (You see, policedepartments base most of their funding on their ratings in that magazine.)Instead, she is coupled with Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, family man andhead of the NCD. Sergeant Mary Mary knows that she's just been posted to theback of beyond. The only thing DI Spratt is known for is killing giants--nota ratings winner in Amazing Crime Stories.However, it's Easter and a bad one for Humpty Dumpty, minor baronet, loverof women, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist. He's foundshattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the brittlepieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play, and it's up to DI Sprattand Sergeant Mary to find out whodunit.I loved this book. Fforde had a field day with the mystery genre. For anyonewho can't quite make the leap into the world of Thursday Next, The Big OverEasy just might suit them better. There are no exotic pets, no dirigibles inthe sky, no leaping into books. Just a mystery amongst the nursery rhymecharacters of their youth (well, mine anyway). I even found a new settingfor my next "dinner"--Castle Spongg, a neosurrealistic mansion that makesHill House look like a 1950s ranch house on Main Street, USA. In Fforde's The Big Over Easy dedication, we get a clue to one of the peopleresponsible for his imagination: "For my brother Mathew, whose love of theabsurd--and the profound--enlightened my childhood." Mathew sounds like mykind of brother.The next book in the Nursery Crimes series will be coming out in 2006--TheFourth Bear. I'll be in line!
    niferanderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Another genre-bending Fforde book that is primarily an allusion-laden mystery. Detective Jack Sprat (yes, that Jack Sprat) has to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty. Like the other Fforde books, this is a dizzying romp through an alternate universe. This book is recommended for those who love reading and may have small children, so allusions are fresh for the reader. I have lent this book to a few kindergarten teachers who thought it was brilliant.
    MerryMary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    My first experience with Jasper Fforde. What an introduction! I really enjoyed the mystery, the characters of Sprat and Mary(Mary), and the surreal landscape of the story environment. I love the juxtaposition of childhood figures and gritty-city crime. I loved the word play and the sly references to fairy tales an nursery rhymes outside the main story.
    BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Big Over Easy is the first of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime mysteries, a spin off from his arch, clever Thursday Next series. We are introduced to DI Jack Spratt and his new assistant Sergeant Mary Mary (and yes, she can be quite contrary) as they attempt to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty, found smashed to bits at the base of his wall.As in the original series, this one is enjoyable in large part because of its inside literary jokes and references, as well as its to-die-for overarching premise: a world in which the book is as important as real life and the story is everything. Often over the top but always enjoyable, Fforde has written another sly, fun mystery.
    vhoeschler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    So much fun!This is the first book by Jasper Fford that I've ever read, although I've had many of his books on my "to read" list for a while. In any case, this is a very clever story. While it has all the ingredients of a good murder mystery, Fford integrates the zany element with his use of nursery rhyme characters, mythological figures, and fairytale icons that partake in the story as though it's the most normal thing in the world. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish!Rating: 5 out of 5 StarsSuggested With: A good memory of your favorite childhood stories!
    OpheliaAwakens on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I've been a big fan of the Thursday Next series, so I was interested to read what Fforde had to say about Jack Spratt. When I read it the first time, I wasn't impressed. It just didn't make me as excited. Upon reading it a second time, I began to appreciate this world for itself and not for the potential humor of crossing worlds with Thursday.
    craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is the first in a series of Nursery Crime novels by Jasper Fforde. Jack Spratt, a character introduced in the Thursday Next novel ¿Well of Lost Plots,¿ is the head of the Nursery Crime Division. He does everything someone named Jack would do in a nursery rhyme; trade an expensive painting of a cow that his mother has given him for magic beans, married a women who could eat no lean which leads to her tragic death, killed a giant or two (actually they were just tall people), and he even chops down a beanstalk. Jack has many problems both job related and family related to deal with. He is investigating the high profile murder of Humpty Dumpty. If he can solve this case it could be considered worthy of print in Amazing Crimes Quarterly which would help him get into the detectives guild. His new partner Mary Mary has no faith in him and neither does his boss. He has a rival who wants to discredit him. Jack even has problem at home with his blended family. All of Jasper Fforde¿s books are a pleasure to read, but this one was a bit on the gory side. I won¿t get into particulars, but when you understand the circumstances of Humpty¿s death it gets kind a gross.
    readafew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Jack Spratt who'll eat no fat, or kiss butt, is a Detective in the Nursery Crimes Devision, the DIIC of the NCD if you will. Detective Sergeant Mary Mary who's quit contrary has just received a transfer to the Reading police department has been (to her dismay) assigned to the NCD and she hopes it isn't a career stopper.Together, they need to find out who killed Humpty Dumpty, amidst all the twists and turns which would even impress the fickle readership of Amazing Crime Stories.This was a fun book, a poke at both Fairy tales and mysteries. I originally assumed it was aimed for a young adult. While I expect young adults would probably enjoy this book it is actually written for a slightly older audience. Many allusions to different fairy tales, nursery rhymes, tale tales, it's fun just trying to recognize all the different stories referred to. I'm sure I missed quite a few.
    boltgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I went into this expecting the same laugh-out-loud awesomeness of the Thursday Next series, and waited and waited for that to start. It's a different sort of book, and taken on its own merits it's okay. The Fourth Bear is better.
    PirateJenny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    DI Jack Spratt is head of the NCD (Nursery Crimes Division) of the Reading police force. New DS Mary Mary joins him at the beginning of the novel. She discovers that NCD is about ready to fall apart--they never seem to get the convictions that say, Friedland Chymes, star of the Reading police force and Amazing Detective Stories always gets. But when Humpty Dumpty has a great fall, it turns out to be more than expected. Since Dumpty was a giant egg, this incident falls squarely in the realm of the NCD, no matter how Chymes objects. As always, Fforde's book is great fun. This is also obviously set in the same universe as the Thursday Next books, as a supporting character or two from that series turns up in Reading. Not as many literary references, other than detective fiction ones, but then, SpecOps doesn't appear either. But if you like the others, my guess is you'll like this one too.
    angelofmusic_81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Jasper Fforde takes the dried-out crusty cliche' detective story and juices it up with some nursery rhyme fun in his Nursery Crime series. Okay, you could do this story with different characters and it would still be the cliche' detective story you see repeated a thousand times on every grocery store book aisle, but where's the fun in that? There's nothing major to impart here--just plain fun and games. The book is peppered throughout with literary and er...Mother Gooserary jokes that you might miss if you blink. Definitely check out this one and the sequel, The Fourth Bear, for a fun stress free romp.
    hoosgracie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall¿but was it an accident, suicide or possibly murder? That is the question that detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary must answer in the first book of Ffordes new Nursery Crime series. Although the book at times lags because of introductions, it¿s a very clever start to the new series.