Jasper Fforde,
The Big Over Easy
(Viking, 2005)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

You know the rest of the story, but let's be honest here -- king's horses and men don't have the technical know-how to reconstruct the sticky fragments of a giant egg. The Reading medical examiner, on the other hand, is up to the task ... and her autopsy shows more than a cracked eggshell.

Someone shot minor baronet Humpty Stuvesant van Dumpty in the back as he sat pickling his innards on his favorite wall.

Detective Inspector Jack Spratt is on the case, with Sgt. Mary Mary and the entire Nursery Crimes Division at his disposal. Of course, the department is on the brink of ruin after failing to convict three little pigs for the premeditated murder of B. Wolff, and a more published wing of the law enforcement machine is elbowing to get in on the case. And in the Reading Police Department, where "true crime" magazines eat up the very best cases for an insatiable public, it's publish or die.

Suspects are plentiful -- Dumpty, an ex-convict, womanizer and former philanthropic millionaire, has made his share of enemies over the years -- but bodies soon begin piling up as the case grows increasingly tangled.

The Big Over Easy is the latest comedy-mystery from Welsh author Jasper Fforde, best known for his popular Thursday Next series. The good news is, it looks like Jack Spratt and Mary Mary will become a new regular feature as the Nursery Crimes series continues -- and believe me, this new vein of stories is too rich to leave untapped. Fforde wields the obvious potential for humor with a deft hand, at times hammering blatant puns home with careless abandon, at others injecting a more subtle wit into the prose. There are also a number of delightful supporting characters and slightly askew cameo appearances drawn from nursery rhymes and other popular fiction.

Humor aside, the mystery is also a puzzler, with Spratt dismissing the more flamboyant displays of his publicity-happy peers and buckling down into some good, solid investigation as the body count grows and the list of suspects dwindles. Each chapter begins with a faux historical or journalistic excerpt that adds further layers to the complexity of Fforde's world.

You'll want to be there when this case is (groan) cracked. Then sign on for the continuing adventures of Spratt, Mary and the NCD.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 4 June 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.