Humpty Dumpty fell off his wall, and the Nursery Crimes Division opened an investigation.
Welcome to the beginning of a whole new wave of mysteries soon to be thickening bookstore shelves everywhere, because if Fforde (The Well of Lost Plots, 2003, etc.) knows one thing, it’s that for every bit of innovation you must give the audience at least another of cliché. Nursery rhymes have come to life in his latest, but the crimes are just as grotesquely complex, the press as vainglorious, the coppers divided between greedy attention-seekers and humble head-down heroes, as in the real world. The Reading police department is unnaturally enamored with DCI Friedland Chymes, who not only always gets his man but is also able to solve crimes in a snappy yet dramatic fashion that makes fantastic copy when he writes them up for the magazines. Jack Spratt, stuck over in NCD (Nursery Crimes Division), has hardly the reputation of Friedland—there’s that awkward business of bungling the Three Little Pigs case—and Spratt’s newest problem is the untimely death of one very large egg. Humpty Dumpty just loved to sit on his wall, but he’s been done in in a rather nasty fashion. With a scrappy new partner at his side (if she’s good enough, she might soon push for a promotion to Official Sidekick), Spratt digs into Humpty’s messy life: the divorce, the dozens upon dozens of ex-girlfriends and jilted lovers, the poorly thought-out investment schemes, etc. Fforde lays on his erudition with a trowel, slathering literary references all over his rote detective story. Of course, it being rote is part of the point, as Fforde’s trying to deconstruct the whole genre. While the effect is at first hilarious and ingenious, eventually the charm wears off.
Shallow and snarky, though the concept is clever.