Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report: The Nursery Crimes series.

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 Reading 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.

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.


  1. Ooh, yes, both are delightful! Glad to know there's another one coming, even if we have to wait. He's been writing other stuff, outside the Thursday Next universe.

  2. Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors, but I have yet to read Nursery Crimes (shame on me, lol). I highly recommend his Thursday Next books if you're familiar with literature, but I think a lot of the humor gets lost if you don't get the references. I've read them all, though, and get a big kick out of them. For non-English majors, definitely check out "Shades of Grey", which is a tongue-in-cheek dystopian.