Reading guide for The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

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The Big Over Easy

A Nursery Crime

by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde X
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 400 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About the Book

Humpty Dumpty's taken the big fall—dead off a ledge, with no eyewitnesses. Was it suicide? Was it murder? In Reading, there's only one police unit that handles this type of tale—the Nursery Crime Division. It's up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, along with his new partner, Sergeant Mary Mary, and their investigative team, to crack the egg case.

In The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde has created a new and bizarre universe where fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and real life collide. Fresh from the success of his bestselling Thursday Next series, Fforde has now sealed his reputation as one of the brightest literary lights around. Written with a sharp eye and a bounding imagination, The Big Over Easy mingles children's literature and crime drama to create something unique—something only Jasper Fforde could have pulled off.

Jack, his latest hero, is an underdog trying to make good. Head of the struggling Nursery Crime Division, Jack is a detective with a less than stellar conviction rate and a reputation for accidentally killing giants. What's worse, he's constantly in the shadow of celebrity detective, coworker, and chief rival Friedland Chymes, whose every case lands on the front page of Amazing Crime Stories, the pinnacle of police achievement. With a large family, a demanding mother, and a car on the verge of a breakdown, Jack is a regular man beset by everyday worries—but ordinary turns to extraordinary as he begins work on the Humpty Dumpty case. The famous egg loved the ladies, lived fast, and drank hard—and it seems he's finally paid the price. But who had a motive to kill Mr. Dumpty, and how did he do it? As Jack and Mary try to answer these questions, they're confronted by a rogues' gallery of nursery criminals: the murderous Gingerbreadman, a mad scientist, three conniving little pigs, and many more. With his job on the line, Jack must solve Humpty's murder before the famous Jellyman comes to town, but the body count is climbing, with as many suspects as victims. Will he succeed? Will Mary betray him for the chance to work with Chymes? Will Jack ever be accepted into the Guild of Detectives? And what about that mysterious beanstalk growing in his mother's yard?

Using his seemingly endless knowledge of literature of all stripes, not to mention his grand sense of the absurd, Fforde gives the impression of having had as much fun writing the book as his fans will reading it; his enthusiasm leaps off the page. Because of this, The Big Over Easy, as the first installment in the Nursery Crime series, is not only a wonderful read but also a terrific introduction to what will no doubt be many more great books to come.


Discussion Questions

  1. Of all the nursery rhyme characters Fforde reinvents, which was your favorite? Why?
  2. Fforde begins each chapter with a relevant excerpt from a book or article. Did you enjoy this device? How does it relate to the importance the story places on the media's reaction to crime?
  3. The Guild of Detectives aims to provide audience-friendly crime stories—even at the expense of the facts. Are there any parallels between this and today's TV and tabloid news culture? Which recent news stories support your argument?
  4. Fforde plays with the idea of celebrity in various forms in The Big Over Easy, from Friedland Chymes to Lola Vavoom. Can you identify a particular message in Fforde's depiction of these characters?
  5. Who is the Jellyman? Whom would his real-life counterpart be?
  6. Lord Spongg explains that, in the foot ailment industry, the money is made through the treatment, not the cure. What other business examples seem to follow this formula? What do you think of this practice?
  7. "I've been underestimated before," says Jack at several key moments. What other crime-solving characters are famous for being solitary, unappreciated, or otherwise marginalized? In what other ways does Detective Spratt fit the traditional hero model?
  8. How does Fforde rework the usual mystery plot clichés? What about the conventions of fairy tales and nursery rhymes? Which does he use to his advantage and which does he abandon altogether?
  9. Before Jack solves Humpty's murder, was there a moment where you thought you knew who the killer was? Whom did you initially think the culprit would be and why
  10. Which nursery rhyme or fairy tale would you like see Fforde tackle next? How would you update it?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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