It’s not a hardboiled mystery. (I really, really couldn’t resist.) Detective Inspector Jack Spratt of the Nursey Crimes Division–understaffed, underfunded, and underwhelming (though not how you might think)–is called in to investigate the demise of Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty, aka Humpty Dumpty.
Businessman, philanthrophist, and large egg, Dumpty has seemingly committed suicide. It is Easter after all, and a bad time for eggs. However, as his investigation proceeds, Jack discovers more than a few people had a motive to crack the egg.
I’ve long been a fan of Fforde’s other series, starring Literary Detective and Jurisfiction Agent Thursday Next. Taking place in an alternate reality where it’s possible to step into the pages of a book, the Thursday Next books—specifically The Well of Lost Plots—actually introduced characters and elements that appear in Jack Spratt’s world. So it was with great expectations that I took up this more murder mystery oriented piece.
It took me too long to get into this book. If not for a book discussion, I might have set it aside, possibly to read at a later date or not at all. The beginning just seemed tedious. It wasn’t until the real investigation of the central murder and interrogating of suspects began that I became more interested in the story. In fact, some 30 pages in, we get this passage:
“The rain had eased up after the previous night’s deluge, and puddles the size of small inland seas gathered on the roads where the beleaguered storm drains had failed to carry it all away. Grimm’s Road was in an area that had yet to fully benefit from the town’s prosperity…” This leads imminently into the crime scene investigation of Dumpty’s remains, and in my opinion, would have been a better starting point for the story.
However, once into the story, I did enjoy it. This is a complex murder mystery—with several beyond quirky characters—which, after some clever false ends, ties up nicely. When I finished the story I was eager to give its sequel, The Fourth Bear, a try.
Mind you, The Big Over Easy is not perfect by any means. It’s interesting to note that—by several accounts—this story was actually the first Fforde tried to get published, but was ultimately rejected. After the success of the Thursday Next books and after much tweaking, Jack Spratt’s story was finally published in 2005.
There are a lot of characters here. Unfortunately, there isn’t a handy cast of characters to help one keep track either. The one included in the back of the book contains spoilers to the story’s outcome. A knowledge of nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters helps, but not all of the characters are readily indentifiable nor are they all from such lore.
Now I like a complex mystery, and this one delivers. It seems there’s plots within plots, subplots, and maybe a few plot holes. Yet by the end it all fits together. As victim, Humpty Dumpty is one interesting character. He had multiple wives and women, was a part of several shady deals, but appeared to have genuinely good heart. Well, maybe…
Jack Spratt is under immense pressure to solve Dumpty’s murder. His last case, charging the three pigs with the murder of the big bad wolf, didn’t go so well. His department may be terminated. A rival detective, DCI Friedland Chymes, wants to take over the investigation for his own glorious reputation. His wife has sent in his application to the highly respected Guild of Detectives. Oh, and Jack’s daughter Pandora is dating the Titan, Prometheus.
Jack is aided by new transfer Mary Mary, but she’d rather work with Chymes. Wee Willy Winkie may have seen the murder, but he’d rather dabble in blackmail. Solomon Grundy has two motives for wanting Dumpty dead, but has a seemingly airtight alibi. There’s a bonkers shrink Humpty Dumpty was seeing; he had egg issues. Aging actress, Lola Vavoom—who also appears in the Thursday Next series—-lived in an apartment across the hall from one of Dumpty’s last known addresses. And oh, there’s something called a Sacred Gonga which may or may not have more significance to the plot. Did I mention the beanstalk growing in Jack’s mother’s yard?
As a pick in my “Unusual Sleuths” book discussion series, it doesn’t get more unusual than this. Overall the story is enjoyable, though not as much as the Thursday Next series, but there are some interesting characters here and quite a few plot twists to enjoy. Recommended for those who like their genres somewhat scrambled.
Oh, and by the way, as usual with a Fforde book, there really is no Chapter Thirteen.