Full of snot and self-pity as I’ve been this week, I’ve been doing a lot of reading when I haven’t been asleep. The main book of the week was The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, which I enjoyed much more than its follow-up The Fourth Bear (I do have a tendency to read books in the wrong order these days, which occasionally gets confusing but now I have an insight into my dad’s approach to Robert Rankin’s Brentford novels, and an even greater respect for his brainpower). I honestly can’t say whether that’s because it’s better, because I’ve read a few Ffordes now and I have greater tolerance for him trying too hard (it’s the really contrived names that get to me), or because I’m not well and was therefore approaching it much less critically and more with a view to a few hours’ amusing diversion.
The Big Over Easy is one of Fforde’s Nursery Crime Division novels, and if you say ‘Humpty Dumpty’s fallen off a wall in Reading and died; DI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary are trying to find out how and why’ it just sounds a bit daft, but in fact it’s a proper gripping detective novel, a bit gruesome in places, full of twists and brilliantly built-up tension. There’s a healthy dose of satire and an affectionate (I assume it’s affectionate) poke at the classic detective canon, as well as quite Rankinesque absurdity (I was going to say Pythonesque, but it’s a lot more internally consistent than that and it does generally follow its own logic). Berkshire is a long-established safe-haven for anthropomorphic animals, apparently, and Reading has a disproportionate number of nursery rhyme characters, all of whom fall under the jurisdiction of Jack Spratt and his tiny underfunded team. And he’s happily married with five children. No wonder no-one takes him seriously as a detective.
Read it if: you like comic fantasy but watch the occasional Poirot; you like detective novels and have a sense of humour that embraces Life of Brian; you are bored, would like your brain exercised in the pursuit of a whodunnit but are sick of depressing, nasty or twisted police-related stories.