It strikes me that in the handful of times on this blog that I’ve talked about fairy tale fiction, I’ve talked about children’s literature and teen literature but I’ve never talked about any grown-up books. Well, today is a good day to start.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that one of the easiest ways to my heart is simply to make me laugh. However, in the world of adult fairy tale fiction, that often seems like a rare thing. We always seem to see people reinterpreting the tales so as to show their dark underbellies and controversial subtexts. There’s a place for that, sure. However, sometimes when you’re reading books about pumpkin carriages, hens that lay gold eggs or cats that wear boots among other bizarre oddities, a little levity seems most appropriate. In that situation, thank goodness for Jasper Fforde
and his Nursery Crimes novels.
The Nursery Crimes series is a spin-off of sorts of the Thursday Next series by the same author (which I have yet to read). So far, the series consists of two books. There’s The Big Over Easy, published in 2005 and The Fourth Bear published in 2006. Word is that the third book entitled The Last Great Tortoise Race will be published in 2017. The Nursery Crimes series focuses on DCI Jack Spratt of the woefully underfunded and rarely respected Nursery Crimes division of the police department in the town of
Reading, Berkshire in . England
The town of
is filled both with regular, ordinary people but also PDRs or Persons of
Dubious Reality. These, in essence are
characters of fiction that have somehow settled in the town. There are also aliens, who have seemingly
come to Earth mainly to indulge in Earth’s popular culture. When there is a case that has something to do
with PDRs or specifically “nursery characters”, the case is given to the
Nursery Crimes Division. Besides
Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt the department consists of the often
contrary Detective Sergeant Mary Mary, Police Constable Ashley who is a
blue-skinned alien who speaks in binary code and Gretel Kandlestyck-Maeker, a
very tall forensic accountant. The first
book, The Big Over Easy, is focused
on solving the mystery of who murdered Humpty Dumpty. What seems like a simple case of a large egg
falling off a wall turns out to be something much more complex involving the
deaths of more nursery rhyme characters, a mad scientist and a giant beanstalk. Reading
The second book, The Fourth Bear, tries to solve the mystery of the untimely death of a reporter nicknamed Goldilocks. This evolves into a case that involves the return of the serial killer known as the Gingerbreadman, characters from the nonsense poem “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat” and cucumbers. If these plots sound ridiculous, then you’re right. They are ridiculous. They’re also very smart and well-crafted mystery plots. There’s also a strong metafiction element. Sometimes, the characters will just straight-up break the fourth wall and talk as if they know they are in a novel. While the main premise of each book draws from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, the stories also draw from things like Shakespeare, Greek mythology and Oscar Wilde among others. On top of all that, each chapter starts with a “news” excerpt worthy of The Grimm Report. These are some of my favorite contemporary books! They always have me laughing. One of my favorite parts in The Fourth Bear is when Jack Spratt actually has to get marital advice from Mr. Punch of Punch and Judy fame.
If you like a good laugh with a touch of metafiction and more literary references than you can shake a stick at, give the Nursery Crimes series a try. You’ll probably be able to catch up by the time that third book comes out.