Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy delivered what I was expecting from the terrible Basket Case, namely a Discworld-like parody of the detective genre. Rather than parodying the genre by attempting to make a run of the mill muder case comical, TBOE (as it will henceforth be known) satirizes classic noir literature by setting the case in a fictional world where literary characters live lives that are both similar and dissimilar to their famous fictional ones.

The synopsis of TBOE is as follows: Jack Spratt (who still eats no fat) is head of the struggling Nursury Crime Division of the Reading Police Department. The NCD is struggling because, in Reading, departments must not only solve cases but also solve them in such a way that they'll make good reading in the various detective periodicals. Enter Mary Mary, the repetitively-monikered writer assigned to the NCD to record Spratt's cases. As soon as she is assigned to the division, Humpty Dumpty dies under suspicious circumstances, and the rest of the book follows Spratt as he works his way through the labyrinthine plot against Humpty.

There was a lot to like about TBOE. It was clever, and several bits made me laugh out loud, especially the bits at the beginning of each chapter from various fictional papers, with headlines such as "Identical Twin Plot Device Outlawed" and "Butler Did Do it Shocker!" The characters have habit fitting with their famed situations (Humpty Dumpty enjoys sitting on walls), and also attributes that are intentionally ludicrous (Humpty was also quite a ladies man, and had an affair with Rapunzel). The plot itself was clever and satirized the twisting narrative of much pulp noir very well, and Jack Spratt was a very likable character.

On the other hand, the writing was sometimes a little sloppy, probably because this is a rewrite of Fforde's first unpublished novel, and the exact setup of the literary universe is a little confusing. What is Prometheus doing in the same story as the three little pigs, for instance? it's also explained that the nursery characters don't really what they are, and, although Jack is aware that his cases are based on nursery rhyme, he seems unaware that he and Mary Mary are also part of that world.

Overall, however, I enjoyed this book and found it pretty funny and a quick read. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Discworld or Douglas Adams, although the concensus seems to be that it's Forde's weakest book. I guess we'll see. I'm planning on reading The Eyre Affair later this year.


Christopher said...


Nihil Novum said...

Your mom.

Brooke said...

Since there's already the books by comedians contest up and running, I challenge you to see who can read more mystery/detective fiction.
You in?