Sunday, January 13, 2008

Laughter Reviews, #13

Another book review with the focus: is it funny?

THE BIG OVER EASY:: AN INVESTIGATION WITH THE NURSERY CRIME DIVISION
JASPER FFORDE
ALTERNATE REALITY SUSPENSE

Premise
Underestimated police detective investigates suspicious death of celebrity egg.

What Works
The sheer creativity of presenting traditional nursery rhyme characters in a “What if they lived in modern times?” crime drama deserves standing applause. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division, a tiny, underfunded, widely derided branch of the police department in an English town where officers are evaluated according to how much tabloid media coverage their cases get rather than accuracy of actual police work. Jack’s cases have a low rate of conviction (the most recent being failure to find the three little pigs guilty of attempted murder following the scalding of the big bad wolf – possibly because the jury was stacked with other pigs), so he is regularly outshone during press conferences by his rival and celebrity crime solver Friedland Chymes, who tweaks his cases according to media-catching features.

When Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III (a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty) is found dead, apparently from injuries sustained falling from a wall, Jack and newly assigned assistant Mary Mary soon learn that the case is much more complex. Humpty was a ladies man, political opportunist, and financial genius working on a massive takeover project involving the two greatest footcare businesses in the world (which happen to be headquartered side by side). There is no lack of suspects who may have wanted the egg out of the way.

The plot winds its utterly unpredicatable way around twists, turns, obstacles, and mucho nursery rhyme characters, which become great fun to recognize and 'collect'. But fascinating plot is just the beginning. The author gleefully challenges reader perspective on multiple levels - from the statement that ‘all the Jack Sprat books have been designated as Character Exchange Programme Safe Havens and all characters are protected by the Council of Genres Directive’ which is placed right after the regular ‘any similarity to authentic persons is entirely coincidental’ message,
to an ad from the Talking Animals Relocation Authority encouraging bears ‘of an anthropomorphized disposition to settle on officially sanctioned plots of land to live idyllic quasi-human lives - application forms in local library',
to the nursery rhyme storyform giving a nod to the classic storyform of myth by incorporating a titan with political asylum problems,
to the epigraphs fronting each chapter that spoof classic crime novels (e.g. a report on the farewell banquet held for the Locked Room Mystery, which is then found murdered - in a locked room, or the report on the banning of the Identical Twin Plot device as well as anything to do with anagrams as part of the 'tough new measures to stave off stagnation in professional detecting').

What Doesn’t
The only quibble Apprentice Writer had was a lack of understanding of the tremendously built-up character of the Jellyman, whose visit to the town becomes entwined with the big climax. Perhaps this character appears in the author’s backlist; Apprentice Writer will now seek this out, pronto.

Overall
Mad scientist, murder, industrial espionage, jealousy, eccentric architecture, St. Cerebellum’s insane asylum, retired acting bombshell, a couple of dozen strains of salmonella – this novel has it all. Should the Gentle Reader feel that his or her reading material has become same old/same old, this utterly original story will be a breath of fresh air. Or, perhaps, a tasty omelette. Either way, refreshment and food for thought.

But is it funny? YES, YES, YES!
An extremely entertaining and whimsical read, this novel earns its place on Apprentice Writer's Keeper shelf for unbounded creativity.

3 comments:

julia said...

My husband just discovered this writer with 'The Eyre Affair'. He tells me about the books he's reading and I tell him about the ones I'm reading. Jasper Fforde sounds like a 'one of these things is not like the others' type of person - his creativity is in the stratosphere.

Wylie Kinson said...

I've not heard of this author - and I'm wondering WHY? Sounds ingenious. I'll keep my eyes peeled for him.

How did you discover him?

M. said...

julia - 'the eyre affair' is next on my list. to me fforde seems like one of those people who is so wildly creative it must be difficult to live with them in daily life, in the same house. sort of how i imagine it would be hard to live with jim carey or robin williams

wylie - i felt the same way, noe i'm planning to glom his backlist, asap