Take one egg (Humpty Dumpty), scramble (murder) and set the most underrated detective since Colombo on the case (Jack Spratt from the Nursery Crimes division) along with his side-kick (Mary, Mary). How’s that for a premise? Daft certainly. Dreadful? Dazzling?
We were split 50:50 split at the start of our book group. But after our discussion, the dreadfuls began to see the dazzling cleverness and the book ended with a respectable score. Try the following games for yourself.
1) Count the nursery rhyme / fairy tale references.
2) Discuss the conventions of said nursery rhyme/fairy tales and how Fforde abides by them. (Never for one minute does the reader question the reality or the humanity of his characters. I never thought that an egg could be so complex or that I’d ever feel sorry for the big, bad wolf. If I ever get my hands on those three little pigs …..)
3) Chuckle gleefully at the satirical pilloring of our contemporary world: the cult of celebrity, corruption in the police force, corruption in big business, “real life” crime magazines, tabloid press, genetic engineering.
4) Deconstruct detective fiction by referring to Father Knox’s 10 Golden Rules. There are those Fforde follows and those he doesn’t …. and then, because he does exactly as he likes, he both breaks and follows a rule on the same page. When finished with Father Knox, repeat by comparing plot elements with classic noir: Chandler, Cain, Hammett.
So much more than a simple whodunnit, this is a piece of postmodern brilliance, imaginatively executed …. just like Humpty Dumpty.