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The Observer
June 2005
The Big Over Easy
Review by Peter Guttridge

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde

Back off or Humpty Dumpty gets it


I'm not sure what it says about the mystery genre that pretty much the only unflawed, untroubled, morally unambiguous policeman around is a nursery rhyme character. Jack Spratt - for it is he - is the protagonist of The Big Over Easy (Hodder & Stoughton 12.99, pp399), the first of a 'nursery crimes' trilogy from the effervescent Jasper Fforde. Detective Inspector Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary, his sidekick in the underappreciated nursery crimes division of Reading police, are smarting from their failure to convict the Three Pigs for murdering Mr Wolff. They get a chance to redeem themselves when Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III is found shattered to death beneath a wall on the wrong side of town.

Was it an accident, suicide or murder? Was his wife involved? And who left a 28ft-long human hair in the womanising Dumpty's apartment? Before long, Spratt and Mary are embroiled in a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, beanstalks and, er, chiropody. Now humour is notoriously subjective, so what I've just described might just sound plain daft to you. And, indeed, when Fforde wrote the first version of this novel in 1994 - he called it Who Killed Humpty Dumpty? - it was rejected by every publisher he sent it to.

But I love it. The Big Over Easy is great not just because it's very funny (albeit with some excruciating puns) but also because it works properly as a whodunit. Although I was wrong to say Spratt is untroubled. As a conflation of three nursery rhyme Jacks, he has several 'issues' to deal with, including the need for a fat-free diet and a strong compulsion to kill giants. Comic genius.

By Peter Guttridge      To see the Guardian website click HERE

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