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Nursery Crime #1

The Big Over Easy

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It's Easter in Reading—a bad time for eggs—and no one can remember the last sunny day. Ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III, minor baronet, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist, is found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the evidence points to his ex-wife, who has conveniently shot herself.

But Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary remain unconvinced, a sentiment not shared with their superiors at the Reading Police Department, who are still smarting over their failure to convict the Three Pigs of murdering Mr. Wolff. Before long Jack and Mary find themselves grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, bullion smuggling, problems with beanstalks, titans seeking asylum, and the cut and thrust world of international chiropody.

And on top of all that, the JellyMan is coming to town . . .

383 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Jasper Fforde

51 books11.8k followers
Fforde began his career in the film industry, and for nineteen years held a variety of posts on such movies as Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro and Entrapment. Secretly harbouring a desire to tell his own stories rather than help other people tell their's, Jasper started writing in 1988, and spent eleven years secretly writing novel after novel as he strove to find a style of his own that was a no-mans-land somewhere between the warring factions of Literary and Absurd.

After receiving 76 rejection letters from publishers, Jasper's first novel The Eyre Affair was taken on by Hodder & Stoughton and published in July 2001. Set in 1985 in a world that is similar to our own, but with a few crucial - and bizarre - differences (Wales is a socialist republic, the Crimean War is still ongoing and the most popular pets are home-cloned dodos), The Eyre Affair introduces literary detective named 'Thursday Next'. Thursday's job includes spotting forgeries of Shakespeare's lost plays, mending holes in narrative plot lines, and rescuing characters who have been kidnapped from literary masterpieces.

Luckily for Jasper, the novel garnered dozens of effusive reviews, and received high praise from the press, from booksellers and readers throughout the UK. In the US The Eyre Affair was also an instant hit, entering the New York Times Bestseller List in its first week of publication.

Since then, Jasper has added another six to the Thursday Next series and has also begun a second series that he calls 'Nursery Crime', featuring Jack Spratt of The Nursery Crime Division. In the first book, 'The Big Over Easy', Humpty Dumpty is the victim in a whodunnit, and in the second, 'The Fourth Bear', the Three Bear's connection to Goldilocks disappearance can finally be revealed.

In January 2010 Fforde published 'Shades of Grey', in which a fragmented society struggle to survive in a colour-obsessed post-apocalyptic landscape.

His latest series is for Young Adults and include 'The Last Dragonslayer' (2010), 'Song of the Quarkbeast' (2011) and 'The Eye of Zoltar' (2013). All the books centre around Jennifer Strange, who manages a company of magicians named 'Kazam', and her attempts to keep the noble arts from the clutches of big business and property tycoons.

Jasper's 14th Book, 'Early Riser', a thriller set in a world in which humans have always hibernated, is due out in the UK in August 2018, and in the US in 2019.

Fforde failed his Welsh Nationality Test by erroneously identifying Gavin Henson as a TV chef, but continues to live and work in his adopted nation despite this setback. He has a Welsh wife, two welsh daughters and a welsh dog, who is mad but not because he's Welsh. He has a passion for movies, photographs, and aviation. (Jasper, not the dog)

* Thursday Next
* Nursery Crime
* Shades of Grey

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5 stars
10,182 (30%)
4 stars
13,510 (40%)
3 stars
7,399 (22%)
2 stars
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1 star
567 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,463 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,576 reviews8,239 followers
August 9, 2023
Fun, but as with most everything I like, complicated.

The story begins with Mary Mary being shown around Reading Central Police Station by Superintendent Briggs. She needed a transfer, and Reading was home to the famous DCI Friedland Chymes, known across England for his exploits in Amazing Crime Stories. Mary had high hopes of being assigned to Chymes’ team, but is instead assigned to partner with Jack Spratt, of the Department of Nursery Crimes. You know–those crimes having to do with people (so to speak) from nursery stories. Unfortunately, Jack (and the department) is facing intense scrutiny after NCI’s failed efforts to charge the three pigs with the murder of Mr. Wolff. But there isn’t time to fret. The next morning, Jack and Mary are sent to Humpty Dumpty’s accidental death/suicide, only the more they learn, the more suspicious it gets.

If Fforde was content to stay with the nursery crime premise, the narrative would be relatively straightforward mystery, albeit with a fair number of detours and rest stops on the road to solving the murder. However, along the way we also meet the Jellyman, and the Sacred Gonga, the holy figure of the country of Splotvia, so it feels a little extra absurd. The first time through it was more than a bit a puzzle, and I breezed over those parts. I think they might be a sort of indirect commentary on the Dalai Lama and Tibet, but I could be wrong. Regardless, it’s more a silly aside than the main focus of the story, which is the Humpty murder.

“Mrs. Singh rang with some figures. They can’t be certain, as so much of Humpty’s albumen was washed away by the rain, but indications show he was twenty-six times the legal limit for driving. Even so, she reckons he would still have been conscious–it’s something to do with his coefficient of volume.”
‘That’s one seriously pickled egg,’ murmured Jack.”

The humor is fun, but because it is quite present, it can interfere with the momentum of the mystery. Much like watching Monty Python, at a certain point, it’s just a bit much. The silliness –there’s an alien whose native tongue is binary, as in 0100111– undermining the tension of the plot, and it isn’t really until the final fifty pages that it feels quite exciting. That’s not to say it’s bad, but that this isn’t the story to keep you up after bedtime. (Yay!) But the ending is exceedingly clever, and it’s quite unbelievable that Fforde was able to make all the elements come together.

“‘Everything,’ said the biohazard agent, with the buoyant tone of someone who has just been given a lot of power and is keen to try it out.”

The writing is clever. There’s a lot of humanity in the characters, even Humpty. Mary was the most problematic for me–being quite contrary and all–until she changes her outlook. It’s the sort of book that works best if you are able to hold absurdity in your mind and yet still take the mystery seriously, as Jack does. People die, even nursery rhyme characters, and much like any honest detective, Jack is determined to do right by the victim, as well as protect the public. It’s an interesting mood mash-up that won’t work for everyone, but for those who like that sort of thing, it should work very well.

Four and a half stars, rounding up because it was worth adding to the library.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
542 reviews38 followers
April 5, 2011
5 Things To Know Before Reading This Book

1. It is a murder mystery.
2. The victim is an enormous egg named Humpty Dumpty. (He fell off a wall … or was pushed or possibly shot.)
3. The detective investigating the crime is named Jack Spratt. His partner is Mary Mary.
4. Jack and Mary work for the Nursery Crimes Division (NCD).
5. You should brush up on your nursery rhymes and fairy tales before reading so as to fully enjoy the book. (It took me almost halfway through to dredge up the fact that Jack’s tendency to accidentally off “unusually tall people” was a reference to Jack The Giant Killer.)

4 Other Stories/Tales/Myths Referenced in the Book

1. The Three Little Pigs
2. Jack and the Beanstalk
3. Old Mother Hubbard
4. Wee Willie Winkie

…plus lots lots more.

3 Things I Thought While Reading The Book

1. “Gosh, I just love it when an author has a whimsical and witty sense of humor and isn’t afraid to just have fun.”
2. “I’m sure I’m missing about 25% (and possibly even more) of the jokes and references in this book. But who cares? It is cracking me up anyway.”
3. “Jasper Fforde is kind of a hottie. And he’s smart too.” (Seriously, go Google Jasper Fforde. He's cute!!)

2 Excerpts I Had To Highlight and Share

Excerpt 1:

“…Father liked word games. He was fourteen times world Scrabble champion. When he died, we buried him at Queenzieburn to make use of the triple word score. He spent the greater part of his life campaigning to have respelt those words that look as though they are spelt wrongly but arent.”

“Such as….?”

“Oh, skiing, vacuum, freest, eczema, gnu, diarrhea, that sort of thing. He also thought that ‘abbreviation’ was too long for its meaning, that ‘monosyllable’ should have one syllable, ‘dyslexic’ should be renamed ‘O’ and ‘unspeakable’ should be respelt ‘unsfzpxkable.’”

Excerpt 2:

Mr. Pewter led them through to a library, filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

“Impressive, eh?”

“Very,” said Jack. “How did you amass all these?”

“Well,” said Pewter, “you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?”


“I’m that person.”

1 Last Thing

I think that you’re either the type of person who likes books like this or you aren’t. Therefore, I’m sure the three possible reactions to this review are:

* “This book sounds aggressively silly and whimsical and that is not my cup of tea at all!”
* “I need to read this immediately!”
* “What the heck took you so long to read Jasper Fforde, Jenners? Haven’t we been telling you how awesome he is for awhile now?”

A funny, cerebral book with lots of word play, silliness and wit to entertain adults. Do not mistake this for a children's book. It is too smart for that!
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
November 30, 2011
Was it an EGGcident…or cold-yoked murder?

When Humpty Dumpty, local businessman and infamous lothario, is found dead beneath a wall outside his Grimm’s Road apartment, Detective Jack Spratt of the Reading (pronounced Redding) Nursery Crime Division (NCD) is called in to investigate. Jack is a smart, capable, no-fat eating investigator whose previous collars include the apprehensions of (i) serial wife-killer, Bluebeard, (ii) psychotic mass-murderer, The Gingerbread Man and (iii) a certain bridge-dwelling troll for threatening behavior against a trio of billy goats.

However, despite his successful track record, Jack’s reputation is presently tarnishing in the crapper and his application for membership in the prestigious Guild of Detectives is in limbo. Why, you ask? First, there's Jack's history of giant-killing (4 so far), though Jack insists all but one were simply accidents. More troubling is his failed, multi-year prosecution of the three pigs for use excessive force in the death of Mr. Wolf has gone up in flames after the jury acquitted the pigs of all charges. A major blow to his career given that his boss felt the prosecution unwarranted. "How many people want to read about three disreputable pigs and a dopey wolf with a disposition towards house demolition?

With his career prospects in tatters, the Humpty case comes along at exactly the right moment and Jack, together with his new partner, Ms. Mary Mary, commence an investigation into Mr. Dumpty's demise. Almost immediately, the pair find themselves embroiled in complex mystery involving stock-swindles, broken marriages, mafia boss Georgio Porgia, and the highly competitive world of commercial foot care.

I found a smile on almost every page of this book and it's certainly what I would describe as a cozy, mood-lifter. That, and wickedly, wickedly clever. Jasper Fforde’s imagination is fertile, well tilled soil and he world-builds like a master craftsman. Sharing links with the world of Fforde’s long running Thursday Next series, Reading, Berkshire is a testament to his prodigious creatively. Nursery rhyme characters, mythological and legendary literary figures, blue aliens and even anthropomorphized plot devices all exists side by side with humanity in a mind-blowing bouillabaisse that Fforde makes work extremely well.

Complex, unique and yet immediately accessible to readers, Fforde cultivates his bizarre territory with the suave, practiced adeptness of a slightly deranged artist. It’s clever, engaging, wonderfully whimsical and, most importantly, an E-ticket fun ride for the mind.

For example, in a satirical poke at the mass media culture, one of the foundational premises of the novel is that detectives work cases not only to catch criminals, but also to do so in a way that makes them marketable as TV and magazine fodder.
The Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives was founded by Holmes in 1896 to look after the best interests of Britain’s most influential and newsworthy detectives. Membership is strictly controlled but pays big dividends: the pick of the best inquiries of England and Wales, an opportunity to “brainstorm” tricky cases with one’s peers, and an exclusive deal with the notoriously choosy editors of Amazing Crime Stories. The Guild’s legal department frequently brokers TV, movie and merchandising deals, and membership usually sways juries in tricky cases…”
This kind of light, intelligent satire can be found on just about every page of this tale.

Fforde's prose is breezy and addictive and peppered with amusing turns of phrase and literary inside jokes. "Palindrome as well. My sister's name is Hannah. Father liked word games. He was fourteen times World Scrabble Champion. When he died, we buried him at Queenzieburn to make use of the triple word score." However, Fforde doesn’t simply rely on word play to carry the day and his central mystery is quite well done. While it is certainly a vehicle Fforde uses to explore his world with the reader, it has substance of its own and Fforde treats it respectfully.

Like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, Fforde's humor is not the kind that makes me bust out laughing so much as smile and nod in good-feeling appreciation for his crafty brilliance. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that each chapter begins with a news article or other tidbit of information that provides insight into the Ffordes amazing world. For example:
A controversial punishment came to an end yesterday when Prometheus, creator of mankind and fire-giver, escaped the shackles that bound him to his rock in the Caucasus. Details of the escape are uncertain, but Zeus’ press secretary, Ralph Mercury, was quick to issue a statement declaring that Prometheus’ confinement was purely an “internal god-titan matter” and that having eagles pick out Prometheus’ liver every day, only to have it grow back again at night, was “a reasonable response given the crime.” Joyous supporters of the “Free Prometheus” campaign crowded the dockside at Dover upon the Titan’s arrival, whereupon he was taken into custody pending applications for extradition.
By the way, Prometheus turns out to be my favorite supporting character and his interaction in the story is terrific. Here is one of my favorite quotes in which Prometheus was communicating with Jack's infant son:
'You speak baby gibberish?' asked Jack.
'Fluently. The adult-education center ran a course, and I have a lot of time on my hands.'
'So what did he say?'
'I don't know.'
'I thought you said you spoke gibberish?'
'I do. But your baby doesn't. I think he's speaking either
pre-toddler nonsense, a form of infact burble or an obscure dialect of
gobbledygook. In any event, I can't understand a word he's saying.'
That should give you a good idea of the tone and flavor of the writing. A few other little gems that I thought were hilarious:

** a law to make illegal the use of the “red herring” plot device.

** The retirement party for the “locked room mystery” which ends in the ironic murder of same inside a locked room...this investigation is on going.

**The Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill that, in an attempt to avoid unwanted clichés, would subject to a fine anyone who stumbles upon a corpse while walking their dog.

Overall, this is a ton of fun. I can’t say I enjoyed this quite as much as the last Thursday Next novel I read, but it's certainly a smart, wonderful read.


Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
July 4, 2022
In a nutshell: this book is a suspenseful absurdist whodunit, featuring several brutal murders, suicide, decomposed corpses, money laundering schemes, biological weapons, corrupt police investigations, intradepartmental spying, biased reporting and highly illegal genetic experiments.

And it all stars with the gruesome untimely demise of a certain Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III, “minor baronet, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist”, a gigolo and drunk and a con artist — and, of course, a very large egg.

Now let me explain and philosophize a bit.

Humans tend to pass on wisdom and entertainment to their smaller humans in a strange and terrifying fashion. Think of most fairytales and nursery rhymes. Almost in every single one there is at least a suggestion if not an overt description of murders or bodily harm or domestic violence or thievery or bullying or a slew of at least minor offenses. No wonder nursery rhymes lead to nursery crimes. And although most of the nursery rhymes in this book required me to engage in intense googling (on account of growing up outside the Anglosphere), I am quite well-versed in Brothers Grimm fairytales, that other gruesome childhood entertainment.
“Since the death by scalding of Mr. Wolff following his ill-fated climb down Little Pig C’s chimney, we at the Nursery Crime Division have been following inquiries that this was not an act of self-defense but a violent and premeditated murder by three individuals who, far from being the innocent victims of wolf-porcine crime, actually sought confrontation and then acted quite beyond what might be described as reasonable self-defense.”

In the English town of Reading (of course) there is a Nursery Crime Division (NCD), dealing with the crimes that involve the persons of the nursery rhymes and fairytales (with them, of course, not quite realizing their folklore roles). NCD is somewhat akin to the red-headed stepchild of the Oxford and Berkshire Police Force, with the investigations done via meticulous police work deemed unworthy of inclusion in the highly sensationalist Amazing Crime Stories and investigator Jack Spratt deemed unworthy of joining the famed Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives.
“Modern policing isn’t just about catching criminals, Mary. It’s about good copy and ensuring that cases can be made into top-notch documentaries on the telly. Public approval is the all-important currency these days, and police budgets ebb and flow on the back of circulation and viewing figures.”

Jack Spratt is not a flashy man. He just wants to do his job — “More notably, he arrested Rumplestiltskin over that spinning-straw-into-gold scam and was part of the team that captured the violently dangerous psychopath the Gingerbreadman” — and stay out of the spotlight, but he’s in a bit of trouble following the unsuccessful prosecution of three pigs for cruel and clearly premeditated murder of Mr. Wollf — and now the investigation into Humpty Dumpty’s possible murder is threatening to slip out of his hands because of very unpleasant corrupt departmental policies. At least he has a new detective on his team - Mary Mary, with a bit of contrariness, obviously.
“There is a limit to how many lost sheep you could track down, how many illegal straw-into-gold dens you could uncover, how many pied pipers arrived in town trying to extort money from the authorities over pest control and how often Mr. Punch would beat his wife and throw the baby downstairs.”

I did not click very well with Fforde’s more well-known The Eyre Affair, so I did approach this one a tad warily — but it came with high praise from a trusted GR friend with impeccable taste in books, so I dove in. And I regret nothing.

It’s not a cutesy book, no. It’s absurdist satire that becomes a sharp, fresh and elegant hardboiled (pun intended, yes) police procedural certainly suitable for adults only. Don’t let the Nursery part fool ya. The humor is ever-present, but the slightly annoying puns of the first few chapters soon become an organic part of the story and, instead of relying on quick ‘gotcha!’ moments of child folklore hilarity the humor becomes darker, more steeped in satire, with frequently sinister and unsettling undertones. Once the story gets going, it stops relying on its nursery rhymes crutches and takes off with the characters and the investigation coming to life.

It’s exceedingly clever and delightfully complex and at times wonderfully silly. Luckily it steers clear of those traditional mystery stories pitfalls that it satirizes. It’s intricately plotted, and all the story threads come together in the end in the most satisfying way. The interplay between absurd and serious is excellently creative. And most importantly for me, it’s just my kind of humor - never really laugh-out-loud kind, but the one that makes you nod a bit in recognition and appreciation and occasionally almost embarrassingly chuckle.

Loved it. 4.5 eggshells stars.
“Well, did you hear about the time I saved Hansel and Gretel from being eaten alive by a witch?”
“No, I’m afraid I didn’t.”
“Or the time I rescued a hundred children from the Pied Piper of Hamelin?”
“Don’t… think so.”
“What about dealing with serial wife killer Bluebeard?”
“Only when Briggs mentioned it yesterday.”
“How about the time I closed down the illegal straw-into-gold den?”
“Not really.”
“Convicted Jill of aggravated assault against Jack?”
“Stopped Mr. Punch throwing the baby downstairs?”
“Must have missed that one.”
“This is my point. I’ve worked hard at the NCD for twenty-six years, trying to bring justice to everyone within my jurisdiction. I deal with most things within the NCD, and I like to think I make a difference. Is any of that remembered? Not a bit of it. I kill a few tall guys and all of a sudden I’m nothing but a giant killer.”

Recommended by: carol.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,379 followers
October 20, 2007
Jasper Fforde is just so much fun. His books are sorta like beach reads for book nerds. They're playful, punny, funny, silly, and smart. Also I saw him read in a small bookstore in SoHo a couple of years ago and he is hilarious. He talked about how he and his kids play games in supermarkets where they put really incongruous and semi-embarrasing things in other people's shopping carts (I think he called them 'trolleys' because of course he British or maybe Austrailian?), like adult diapers for young pretty girls or whatever.

Anyway, the Thursday Next books are in my opinion much better than this series, but that won't stop me from reading everything he writes. Jasper, please be my friend?
Profile Image for Bee.
412 reviews3 followers
September 29, 2022
What the hell did i just read?! Oh I see, there's two Fs on the cover. Oh right, this is going to be very silly indeed.

I sort of hate admitting how much I enjoy these stupid books. I thin I'm gong to listen to another one.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,686 reviews347 followers
July 17, 2020
Who killed Humpty Dumpty? In this amazingly silly police-procedural, we follow Detective-Inspector Jack Spratt (aka Jack Beanstalk, Giant Killer) and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary of the Reading Police, Nursery Crimes Division through the twists and turns of this, um, fractured fairy-tale. Just about every half-remembered nursery-rhyme character makes an appearance: The Three Little Pigs, Rumplestilkin, clues such as an auburn, 28-foot long human hair -- along with more about podiatry than you really want to know. What are verrucas, anyway?

Anyway, "The Big Over Easy" has all the exuberant, clever silliness that I love in Jasper Fforde -- he's in top form here. The Thursday Next literary-detective schtick was wearing a bit thin, so I was happy to see him start something fresh. If you've somehow missed Fforde's literary-fantasy extravaganzas (The Eyre Affair, et seq.), Over Easy wouldn't be a bad place to start -- though you'll miss all the insider links to the Thursdayverse. Fforde fans will be happy to hear that this one is as silly and entertaining as the best of those.

The cover art (by Tom Gauld) and interior illos are, well, just as silly and spot-on as the book. You never know how somebody else will react to humor, but you really owe it to yourself to try at least one Fforde. There's a Fforde in your future!

In his Big Over Easy "Making Of" Wordumentary [sadly, no longer online], Fforde reveals that Over Easy started out as his first novel, "roundly rejected by all and sundry" in 1994. And extensively rewritten in 2004: "Like most things I attempt to accomplish, I usually start with a 'how hard can it be?' attitude which is quickly replaced by a 'Holy shit, this stuff is tricky!'..." Indeed.
[review written 2005]
Profile Image for Melissa Chung.
904 reviews327 followers
February 8, 2019
This is my first experience with Jasper Fforde and I have to say I really enjoyed this book. I read this story out loud to my children. A few parts I said "kissing" instead of you know what. Overall very enjoyable, especially if you are old enough to know all the nursery rhymes. I grew up reading Mother Goose, so I knew them all. My 13 year old unfortunately skipped that book on his shelf teehee. I had to read the rhymes so he would know where the characters came from.

If you didn't read the synopsis this book is about Humpty Dumpty's murder. Jack Spratt is the main inspector of the NCD (Nursery Crime Division) and the NCD is about to go out of business. In this world, Amazing Crime Stories is where it's at. If you are a policeman and you want any clout with the media you have to have solved a very high profile crime and have it written in Amazing Crime Stories. Jack is a straight shooter and follows the rules unlike his ex-partner Chymes. Jack's new partner Mary Mary.... is still iffy on where she has been placed. Her heart is set on being apart of The Guild which is a group of very "popular" policeman.

I loved trying to figure out who killed Humpty and of course to see all the nursery rhyme characters. If you like reading whacky re-tellings, if you like nursery rhymes and such, if you like mystery crime books, you'll definitely like this one.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books763 followers
September 4, 2022
Re-read 8/25/22: I needed an audiobook and was in the mood for this one. The narration by Simon Prebble is really good, and the zaniness that is Fforde's trademark suited my mood. It did highlight the big gap in Fforde's publication history, but as the sequel to Shades of Grey has an actual listing on Amazon UK, I feel less sad about this than I otherwise would. My review below stands.

Read 10/2/17: I picked this up for some light comfort reading over the weekend, and it did not disappoint. This is by way of being a very loose spin-off from the Thursday Next books (Thursday encounters Mary Mary's home in a book character exchange program) and really is a standalone series. Detective Jack Spratt heads up the Nursery Crime division at the Reading police department, and when Humpty Dumpty is found dead at the base of a wall, shattered into a thousand pieces, the case is clearly his and just as clearly suicide. But Jack, along with his new partner Mary Mary, soon finds it was murder, and ends up fighting not only the suspects, but his own department, to solve the case.

I'm generally a fan of Jasper Fforde's books no matter what he writes, and this was no exception. I like the conceit of nursery rhyme characters coexisting with humans, and even more enjoy that . In addition to the nursery rhyme theme, detection in this world is a matter of pleasing the public, because detectives are expected not only to solve cases in a way suited to publication or filming, but also to have colorful personal lives. Jack, happily married father of five with no real vices, can never get into the Guild because Nursery Crime just doesn't sell papers. It's a fun idea that Fforde plays to the limit.

Much of Fforde's typical zany humor is on display here--for example, there's the Sacred Gonga, which is constantly alluded to but never described, and the Jellyman, whose actual identity and purpose are also never mentioned despite his being some kind of important political or religious figure. The reader is left to just go with the flow, and if you're in the right mood for it, it can be very entertaining. I still prefer Shades of Grey, but this passed the time enjoyably.
Profile Image for Maria Elmvang.
Author 2 books100 followers
November 23, 2007
Amazon calls this "probably Fforde's weakest novel" - a statement I must say I highly disagree with. It's much better than Lost in a Good Book and almost on par with The Eyre Affair - something which I thought absolutely impossible.

I love how Fforde dares to use the media to get his point across and how he plays around with commonly known concepts and stories without ever blatantly showing his readers "This is what I'm talking about, I'm so obvious you have to get it now!". He perfectly masters the art of subtle jokes and almost rivals Douglas Adams for absurdity.
Profile Image for Sarah.
87 reviews34 followers
July 15, 2008
07/15: Finished it today. So damn funny, if you like puns and referential literary humor and British mysteries. Simultaneously a romp (yes, a romp!) through nursery rhymes and fairy tales, while sending up the ridiculousness of both old-school murder mysteries and modern-day police procedurals. Recommended to anyone who likes mysteries and fairy tales. Will definitely be checking out the next one from the library in short order.

07/14: Halfway through. Can't wait to finish. If Wales were not so very far away, I'd be leaving offerings at Mr. Fforde's door, I think. I have laughed out loud several times and giggled many times more.

07/12: I have only read the first chapter of this, and I am already in love, purely because of the pun involving the history of Reading.
Profile Image for Kate O'Shea.
639 reviews36 followers
October 9, 2022
Jasper Fforde is certainly a prolific writer. I've loved his Thursday Next and Last Dragonslayer series so I thought I'd try the Nursery Crimes books.

On the face of it they are very like Thursday Next - set in a provincial city is the Nursery Crimes Division who investigate the lawlessness in children's nursery rhymes.

The first mystery is who pushed Humpty Dumpty to his death from his favourite wall? What follows is an intricate, surprisingly complicated and tautly woven story which pulls in so many other nursery rhymes. We meet (amongst others) Wee Willie Winkie and Solomon Grundy plus Lola Vavoom puts in a cameo appearance.

Our hero, DI Jack Spratt (he who can eat no fat) is ably assisted by DS Mary Mary amongst others. He is actively hindered by his nemesis, Friedland Chyme, who can do no wrong, gives good prose and is desperate to head up the Dumpty case.

I can't say this is quite as funny as Last Dragonslayer but it is certainly as clever and intricately plotted as the Thursday Next series. I am in awe of anyone who uses literature and language the way Jasper Fforde does.

Clever, funny, great plot. Highly recommended for any Jasper fans.
Profile Image for Carolyn (on vacation).
2,251 reviews642 followers
December 2, 2015
Jasper Fforde, lover of slapstick and absurdity has another winner with this series of Nursery Rhyme crimes. Many of your favourite nursery rhyme character will appear in this humorous tale of the demise of big egg and womaniser Humpty Dumpty who fell off a wall - or was he pushed or shot or drugged or poisoned?

Jack Spratt who likes his bacon lean and has accidently killed several giants (although he claims three of them were just very tall men) is an Inspector in the Nursery Crimes Division where he has solved many important cases but had the credit stolen by the popular Detective Friedland Chymes whose many cases have been published in "Amazing Crime Stories" the number one crime magazine. With his side kick Mary Mary Jack sets out to investigate the sudden death of Humpty Dumpty, along the way interviewing his neighbour Willie Winkie, Giorgio Porgia, a corrupt criminal and Tom Thomm, son of a flautist. The plot thickens when rival footcare companies, Spongg Industries and Winsum and Losum come onto the scene and it is discovered that Humpty may have been involved in an evil plan.

Lots of fun with many inventive names and scenarios. To my mind not as good yet as the Thursday Next series but worth looking at further episodes.
Profile Image for Samantha.
265 reviews6 followers
February 25, 2009
Outstanding! This may be my next book club recommendation. Being a mom of a toddler makes it even more amusing - especially when reading Mother Goose before bedtime. I normally avoid mysteries but I highly recommend this one.

Despite the dry and everpresent humor, it still wasn't hard to come up with my favorite paragraph:

An official report confirms what most of us have already suspected: that the alien visitors who arrived unexpectedly on the planet four years ago are not particularly bright, nor interesting. The thirteen-page government document describes our interstellar chums as being "dull" and "unable to plan long-term." The report, which has been compiled from citizenship application forms and interview transcripts, paints a picture of a race who are "prone to put high importance on inconsequential minutiae" and are "easily distracted from important issues." On an entirely separate note, the aliens were reported to be merging into human society far better than has been expected-the reason for this is unclear.
-Extract from The Owl, June 4, 2001
Profile Image for Jo.
98 reviews8 followers
July 14, 2012
After reading a couple of really heavy stories, I felt the need for something light. Something fun. Something that I could sink my teeth into, only to find it was full of chocolate. And that’s why I picked up this book, at this time.

Many, many years ago I picked up Jasper Fforde’s ’The Eyre Affair’ at a small bookshop when I was desperate for something to read. I went on to devour the rest of the Thursday Next series, and fell in love with Fforde’s voice and style. He’s the type of storyteller who can spin a ludicrous tale with a straight face, and have even the most sceptical listener wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a measure of truth to his story.

Humpty Dumpty is an egg. A four-foot tall egg. He’s found dead, having apparently fallen off his wall in the middle of the night. Or was he pushed?During the course of the investigation, DI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary encounter three little pigs, the gingerbread man, magic beans, three bags of wool, Georgio Porgia, and a host of other familiar characters.

The whole story is full of little in-jokes and cute coincidences, but the key word in “nursery crime” is definitely “crime”. Fforde tells the story straight — it’s a police procedural with nursery rhyme characters. There’s a CSI team, a medical examiner, forensic evidence, clues and red herrings, unexpected confessions, jealousy, subterfuge, lies, and enough straight-faced satire for any three books.

Fforde’s writing is hilarious — effortlessly so, it would seem — but this is so much more than just a comedy. It’s one of the best mystery stories I’ve read in quite a while.
387 reviews16 followers
March 27, 2019
I’d wanted to start this review with ”tongue in cheek" and was thinking the phrase is a dated expression – so I Googled it “it is ironic, slyly humorous; not meant to be taken seriously, however its sarcasm is subtle”. Take off the subtle and you're there as far as book description. For fans of British humor, wry, droll - especially entertaining for fans of mystery, specifically British mystery series that it alludes to often.

If you are prone to bone deep depression upon reminders that the general populace and media care more for rousing entertainment than truth and that all those in government positions must play to that desire then, this book may not be as amusing as advertised. The proliferation of nursery characters will aide in keeping the despairing reality at bay.

It is not an action packed novel nor is it a gripping mystery. It reads more as a witty stroll, easy to put down but also easy to pick up again.

I’d picked up Eyre Affair by this author mid last year and not yet read it - after reading this, I’ll crack the cover on Eyre soon.
Profile Image for Katie.
213 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2016
Jasper Fforde is a master and he has done it again with this book. I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,701 reviews594 followers
January 27, 2015
Having really enjoyed, “The Eyre Affair,” I was looking forward to reading this, the first in the ‘Nursery Crimes’ series. DS Mary Mary transfers to Reading Central Police Station, hoping to work with her hero, DCI Friedland Chymes. As with, “The Eyre Affair,” this is a slightly twisted version of reality – so, in this world, the police are lauded not for their ability to solve crimes, but to publish them in crime magazines. In order to become a success, detectives need to join the Guild of Detectives – in which Friedland Chymes is a major success. However, Mary Mary finds that, rather than working with Chymes, she has joined the Nursery Crime Division. Heading the team is DI Jack Spratt, who has just failed to convict the three little pigs for premeditated crimes against a wolf (it takes a long while to boil a huge cauldron of water…).

Into this world of upside down nonsense we follow Jack Spratt and Mary Mary as they investigate their latest case. Humpty Dumpty is dead, but did he fall of a wall, or was he helped? Along the way we meet Greek Gods, investigate dodgy share dealings in Spongg’s footcare empire and await the visit of the Jellyman in Reading. Although this is a lot of fun, I did not find the storyline – or characters- as interesting as the Thursday Next books. Still, it was an enjoyable read and Jasper Fforde manages to name check many literary characters. I especially liked the little newspaper snippets at the beginning of each chapter. I am not sure I would read more in this series, but I am glad I finally got around to reading this.
Profile Image for Brendan.
658 reviews19 followers
January 19, 2009
I read this book several years ago, and so don’t have a lot to say about it today. I reread it as part of my book club, but in the intervening years, the distance gave me some perspective that let me recognize or enjoy a few more jokes:

* Charles Pewter, of The Diary of an Ordinary Man shows up in the book, with a couple funny jokes about his house.
* I’ve come to appreciate the vast number of goofs on the genre that Fforde perpetrates. I still particularly like the attention to what car Jack drives, and the joke that driving a distinctive car is part of the detective mystique.
* The recurring gag that people couldn’t tell whether Humpty Dumpty was wearing a cravat or a cummerbund was funny too.
* The Gingerbread man is as frightening as always.
* My book club really liked this book.
* The book pokes fun at a number of detective sub-genres, the least prominent of which is the hard-boiled genre. Yet the title clearly evokes The Big Sleep. And the first victim is an egg, so hard-boiled seems the most apt genre. Oh well.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
November 18, 2009
I've found Jasper Fforde's books generally fun/amusing. I'd read the Thursday Next books; I expected to enjoy Nursery Crimes. There was nothing I'd point to that was wrong with the book, although being familiar with his writing, I wasn't terribly surprised by the tone, form, style, etc, etc. Someone else described it as a "beach read for nerds" -- which sounds just about right to me. It's heavy on puns and references, light on real characterisation. While there has to be a plot, it feels very much like the plot is there to contain the puns and references, not really for its own sake.

It's easy to read and fun; I'm not sure I'll ever reread it. I found Thursday Next more compelling -- it helps that I adore Jane Eyre, and I wasn't used to Fforde's style then.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
760 reviews78 followers
July 14, 2008
This was hard for me to love at first. I knew it was trying to be funny, but I kept taking it too seriously. Previous to chapter 16 I was prepared to write this review: "Didn't like it as much as I wanted to." After my husband explained the nursery rhyme that was meant to be the heading to chapter 19, I lightened up and found myself laughing as I had hoped at the beginning. It's a bit like a Monty Python movie... or Zoolander... the first time it just seems like stupidity... but then you find yourself laughing when you look back on it. The ending was fun. I started the second one a few weeks ago. I'll pick it up now with less trepidation.
Profile Image for Deanna.
946 reviews53 followers
October 5, 2018
If you’re more wired than I am to appreciate big doses of cute-clever, this is a better than 3 star read.

There is a story woven into the cute-clever. And Fforde is an able and creative story teller.

I enjoy the Thursday series, which is plenty imaginative. With this nursery rhyme (for adults) series he has gone beyond my appreciative capacity.

But I can still see that this is well done for what it is. I admired what he did here more than enjoyed the read, but I fully acknowledge that this is truly down to reader taste rather than writing quality.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,733 reviews261 followers
October 8, 2020
Oh my gosh! The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime #1) by Jasper Fforde was so much fun. I loved the tone and world of this story. It's very much Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets The Eyre Affair, Once Upon A Time, and Humpty Dumpty Jr.: Hardboiled Detective which I really appreciated. I don't know about you, but I really needed this. I need to continue thus series asap.
Profile Image for Lis Carey.
2,190 reviews101 followers
January 13, 2011
In case you were worried: No, Jasper Fforde has not run out of weird, twisted things to do to defenseless Literature.

Jack Spratt, his second wife, and their five children (two his, two hers, one theirs) are living happily in Reading, England. Well, reasonably happily. Jack, a policeman, has the dubious honor of being the head of the Nursery Crimes unit. He and his tiny unit believe in the importance of their jobs, but no one else does. And they've just experienced the embarrassing, and more importantly, budgetarily inconvenient, failure to convict the three pigs for the murder of the wolf. As icing on the cake, Jack's old rival, Friedland Chymes, has just wrapped up yet another big case, and is yet again basking in the glow of favorable publicity and departmental approval.

But, on the positive side, DI Jack Spratt has a new assistant, DS Mary Mary, who just transferred to Reading fro Basingstoke—in the hope of working with Friedland Chymes. It's her ambition to be Official Sidekick to the great detective, writing up—and featuring prominently in—the great detective's adventures as recounted in Amazing Crime Stories. Instead she finds herself working with Jack—not even a member of the Guild!

They quickly find themselves investigating the death of one of the many nursery characters residing in Reading, Humpty Stuyvesant van Dumpty, former teacher, millionaire, philanthropist, ex-convict, and egg about town. His death initially appears to be a suicide, but Jack and Mary make sure they cover all the bases, and discover that Humpty was shot, apparently by his ex-wife, who subsequently shoots herself. But something's wrong here, and they can't let it go.

Jack, especially, can't let it go, when Friedland Chymes decides that he wants the case, and pulls out all stops in his efforts to force Jack to hand over the investigation. Jack quickly finds himself caught in the tangles of a plot involving money-laundering, smuggling, and bio-terrorism, while at home he's dealing with magic beans, beanstalks, his own unfortunate reputation for killing giants, and his new boarder, Prometheus. (Yes, of course that Prometheus; he's escaped and has applied for asylum, to the great annoyance of Zeus.)

The Big Over Easy, like the later Tuesday Next books, has the advantage of being an outright fantasy world, rather than slapdash science fiction. And while some of the names, like Mary Mary's, are a bit sillier than they need to be, it's all in keeping with the nursery-rhyme backdrop, rather than the apparent pre-adolescent desire to get a reaction that seemed to inspire some names in the Tuesday Next books, such as Jack Schitt. The invention here is more firmly in the zany fun category, with few lapses into "silly enough to be annoying."

(While Tuesday Next and her family, friends, and enemies are neither seen nor heard from, this is apparently set in the same world, and some of the minor characters, most notably Lola Vavoom, do make appearances.)

Good, light summer fun reading.
Profile Image for Patricia.
282 reviews10 followers
June 22, 2009
Absolutely dreadful. In no way was I expecting this novel, a mystery about the death of an alcoholic, womanizing Humpty Dumpty, to remotely resemble great literature. Unfortunately, though, it didn't even succeed as fun, breezy summer brain candy.

Fforde suffers from an acute case of cleverness overload--every sentence reads like he's trying way to hard to be witty. Plus, while normally I love contemporary literature that rewrites fairy tales or folklore, in this book it felt like a cheap gimmick. Instead of drawing on nursery rhyme characters to produce social or cultural commentary as to how these figures function as modern myths, the "nursery crime" device seemed intended solely to throw in as many familiar characters as possible so that readers would feel smart when they caught the references.

The mystery wasn't particularly interesting or original, and I laughed maybe twice over the course of the book. If it hadn't have been the only reading material I brought on a 4-hour plane ride, I probably wouldn't have bothered finishing it.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews664 followers
January 1, 2019
There's a sense of contagious literary joy about Jasper Fforde's works, a gleeful irreverence that is not disdain, a mocking that still allows for enjoyment. It's not mean-spirited, and what amazes me most about this particular series is that it manages to poke fun at the tropes of the mystery novel and of nursery rhymes, while still being a damned good murder mystery. It's got the conventions down, using them even as they are subverted, and highlighting them through investigating nursery crimes is a great deal of fun.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Anita.
733 reviews55 followers
October 13, 2018
This book just sucks you right in.  And I'm entirely sorry that I'd set it aside in my attempts to get some other books finished, because I should have just kept reading.  I most definitely would have finished it a lot earlier.

Slow paced as it is, it's also a lot of fun to read, and the investigation kind of intriguing to follow, even though Jack is the worst at jumping to conclusions before gathering all his facts.  He's a great detective and all, you can see that, but I had to sigh at each time he came up with his conclusion about how Humpty Dumpty died, but then a new piece of evidence would embarrassingly make him eat his words--especially since each time he would be announcing his conclusions confidently to his boss.  Granted, it's great that he readily continues on with the investigative flow once he finds out that there's more to the story than he'd thought, though.

Did anyone else get a sense of dramatic cliff-hanger after the end of each chapter when a new reveal was announced?  The dialogue felt kind of dramatic, and I kept imagining the "Dun Dun DUNNN!" music in my head.

Just me?  Okay...  Moving along...

The book itself was really just addictive and delightful, even if there are references dropped left and right about things you don't quite understand; but for the narration, seems perfectly natural to hear in everyday conversation, like how Rambosian's only speak in binary.  Or how Prometheus can speak toddler gibberish, but not infant gibberish, or something like that.  It's extremely silly some of the things that are narrated, but at the same time, in a way makes perfect sense.

I wish that some of the characters DID stand out a little bit more, but I feel like the book was so focused on introducing the world of the Nursery Crimes that it kind of sacrifices some character development.  Specifically, Mary Mary's revelation somewhere at midpoint in the book felt like it should have been a bit more life-affirming... but we just kind of move on and so does she.

And the issue about Arnold is never really addressed, so I'm lead to believe that this might be a running gag throughout the series (what's left of it, anyway, since there's only one other book, and a third supposedly in the works).

On a side note, I was very amused by the references to Jack being a giant killer, then the scene where he has his mother's painting of a cow exchanged for magical beans just hit the spot.  Especially when we give the scene more of an art fraud spin.

Meanwhile, I found myself enjoying the dynamics between the Nursery Crime Division, and liking the camaraderie between Jack and his crew.  I'm also quite happy with the fact that Jack's personal life is depicted in such a healthy way, with a loving wife, great kids, and a basically stable relationship with all of them.  I'm sure tense family relations are the "thing" now-a-days in a lot of books, but I like that Jack's wasn't angst-ridden.

The incorporation of all things nursery rhymes, fairy tales, mythologies, etc, was done quite cleverly, and worked really well to add to the Nursery Crime world as well as this book's plot, in general.  And I also kind of liked the short newspaper articles at the beginning of each chapter... except when we got closer to the end and I just wanted to know how everything turns out... which, that twist at the very end of the book was interestingly... unexpected.

I would have liked to see more of a comeuppance for Friedland Chymes... but I suppose not everything has to be rounded out.

I will definitely be going onto the next book in this series, and just as well, will check out more of Jasper Fforde's work, having seen and heard a lot of great things about his Thursday Next series.


Halloween Bingo 2018

(mystery with noir elements including authors like James Ellroy, Ian Rankin, anything that falls generally under the category of Nordic Noir, Tartan Noir, Granite Noir, etc.)

Other Possible Squares:  A Grimm Tale; Murder Most Foul

This review posted from Ani's Book Abyss | The Big Over Easy
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