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Literature / Nursery Crime

The Big Over Easy, the first novel in the series.

Nursery Crime is a series of humorous fantasy / detective novels written by meta-fiction maverick Jasper Fforde. They are a loose spin-off of the same author's Thursday Next series: the world it's set in existed within an unpublishable Police Procedural novel that Thursday occupied in The Well of Lost Plots, wherein the characters worried they would be deleted. It was turned into a refuge for characters from Oral Tradition lacking a proper ink-and-paper home to call their own, and thus Nursery Crime was born.

The books themselves deal with the strange adventures of Police Detective Jack Spratt and his partner Sergeant Mary Mary, who live in an otherworldly version of Reading, England where characters from nursery rhymes are not only real and alive, but also enjoy celebrity status. But these fairy-tale folk are not the harmless innocents you always assumed them to be; their world is neck-high in murder, sex, deceit, and other shady dealings. Thus Jack, Mary, and their miscellany of comrades-in-arms at Reading's Nursery Crime Division are forever tasked with the cases other cops are too good (or too square) for: keeping some semblance of order in the world of fairy-tale creatures.

Not to mention the world's desire to ensure that detectives stay not merely efficient but also readable; after all, no matter how good you are, unless you drive a Cool Car and have a chief who drops you from the case every month, how can anyone be interested in reading about your adventures after the fact?

Think of it as Shrek meets the Police Procedural.

Not to be confused with the Genesis album Nursery Cryme.

The books in the trilogy are, in order:

  • The Big Over Easy
  • The Fourth Bear
  • The Last Great Tortoise Race (not yet released)


  • All Myths Are True
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: If you're paying attention in The Fourth Bear, you might notice that Jack's theories aren't any crazier than Chymes' were, yet Briggs doesn't believe him. Because Chymes turned out to be a fraud.
    • Briggs has a real problem with this in general. Despite living in a world where nursery rhyme characters are demonstrably real he is unwilling to believe almost any theory remotely connected to them.
  • Author Appeal: Fforde really seems to like his cars. If a car is mentioned, you can count on him giving the year, model, and even a brief manufacturing history.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Gingerbread Man. Yes, you read that correctly.
  • Bat Deduction: This is actually invoked by many detectives, as it makes for more interesting stories and adaptations. Jack is one of the few who actually prefers to, y'know, investigate crimes. Chymes is easily the most popular detective in Reading. In one of his press confrences he explains that he deduced from some custard on the victim's sock that he was trying to send a message to Chymes, the only person smart enough to figure it out. Custard in French is "creme anglaise", which is an anagram for one of the suspects. Unfortunately, anagram-based clues had recently been ruled inadmissable, so he had to DNA test the crumbs around the fatal gunshot wound, which turned out to be from a certain bakery chain, which they staked out and caught the suspect fingered earlier entering. She immediately confessed.
    • Towards the end of the first book, we find that Friedland Chymes basically faked a case entirely; the person who confessed and got "jailed" was an actor. The implication is that most of his cases, were faked, as well as those of lots of other detectives, which means that there are plenty of murders running around scot-free.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Rambosians.
  • Captain Ersatz: Friedland Chymes is an only-slightly-exaggerated Sherlock Holmes. He has an assistant called Flotsam, and a reputation for seeing straight through hugely complex cases based on a few minor details - in one instance, he identifies the murderer based on the word he played in a Scrabble game. (However, it is mentioned elsewhere that Sherlock Holmes himself existed in this world.)
    • Also a subversion, as Chymes is eventually revealed to be the polar opposite of Sherlock Holmes—a corrupt, selfish, incompetent, opportunistic, backstabbing fraud, who regularly steals credit from other, worthier detectives and even fakes his own investigations for the sake of popularity.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In The Big Over Easy, Jack's mother repeatedly asks him when he's going to remove his three bags (full) of wool from her shed, which just fits into the mileu of jokes, puns and references to nursery rhymes until the bags cushion his fall from the beanstalk, saving his life.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Ashley. Understandable considering that he's an alien, and naturally doesn't understand all the complexities of human social interactions.
  • Continuity Nod: Jack makes an early reference to his happily married family life that's actually a joke for anyone who's read The Well Of Lost Plots and remembers the early drafts of "Caversham Heights".
    • Mary lives in a converted flying boat on the nearby lake, as she did when Thursday Next was playing her character in "Caversham Heights" (in The Well Of Lost Plots). One of her neighbours lives in an old submarine. In WoLP it was Captain Nemo, living away from the narrative on a book transfer. Here, she doesn't know how the submarine got there.
    • In The Big Over Easy, Mary pulls out in front of a convertible with the top down and a "distinctive color scheme".
  • Da Chief: Geoffrey Briggs, commissioner at the NCD. Duty bound to suspend Jack at least once an investigation.
  • Didn't We Use This Joke Already?: Jack Spratt is given a piece of evidence, a manila envelope with "Important" written on the front, and quips, "This could be important." When he shows it to Mary, she makes the same quip, but Jack informs her that he already made that joke, and she apologizes.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Anthropomorphic bears have a... problem with porridge ("flake"). They get addicted to it rather quickly, and it is a controlled substance when they are involved in a transaction. They also have problems with honey ("buzz" or "sweet") and marmalade ("chunk", "shred" or "peel"). Jack says he personally sees no problem with it, and his arguments in defense of it sound fairly familiar.
    • An openly gay politician with a partner and an adopted son has a shocking secret: he's having an affair with a woman and his marriage is a sham for political reasons.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Lord Randolph Spongg.
  • Expy: Jack, Mary, Lord Randolph Spongg, Lola Vavoom, and Prometheus, from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.
    • The Fourth Bear also features Dorian Gray as a used car dealer peddling appropriately macabre merchandise, and Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest as a pest in the Spratt household.
  • Fantastic Racism: "Ursism" is the discrimination against anthropomorphic talking bears.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Reading, England.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: See They Walk Among Us.
  • Fun with Palindromes: Otto Tibbit (and his sister Hannah).
  • Genre Blindness: The nursery characters often don't realize that they are PDR (Persons of Dubious Reality). It's heavily implied that several members of the Nursery Crime Division are nursery characters themselves and are unaware of it, although Jack does show some flashes of insight.
    • In The Fourth Bear, it's revealed that Jack did know, but that he had actively forced himself to forget.
  • Genre Savvy: Pretty much everyone. Members of the Guild of Detectives are not only selected based on stereotypical "detective traits" (drinking problems, vintage cars, unsteady love affairs) but are also accompanied by sidekicks who write their friends' adventures, Watson-style, to appear in 1930s-style crime comics. The entire police department also seems to have learned their procedure entirely from 1970s American cop shows. In The Fourth Bear, the NCD officers discuss which plot devices to use in their investigations.
  • Hand Wave: Parks, a conspiracy theorist in The Fourth Bear "had latched onto Jack's outlandish explanation without too much difficulty, as should you."
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Ashley and Mary go out on a date, have a lot of fun, but she notes that they're entirely incompatible on a physical level.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Elevated to epic art form in The Fourth Bear, where inane gossip made throughout the book turns out much later to have been the set-up for an incredibly long punchline similar to the classic "Peter Piper picks a pepper" tongue-twister. The characters even break the fourth wall to complain about the pun.
    • Specifically: "Pippa Piper picked Peck over Pickle or Pepper? Which of the Peck pair did Pippa Piper pick?" "Peter 'Pockmarked' Peck of Palmer Park! He was the Peck that Pippa Piper picked!" "No, no! You've got it all wrong! Paul Peck is the Palmer Park Peck. Peter Peck is the pockmarked Peck from Pembroke Park. Pillocks! I'd placed a pound on Pippa Piper picking P.C. Percy Proctor from Pocklington." [pause] "It seems a very laborious setup for a very lame joke, doesn't it?" "Yes", said Mary, shaking her head sadly, "I really don't know how he gets away with it".
  • Innocent Aliens: Ashley, and his parents.
  • Lead Police Detective: Jack Spratt
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Quatt
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Jack's daughter falls in love with (and later marries) Prometheus. Yes, that Prometheus.
    • Actually Averted, as Prometheus has decided to give up his immortality when Pandora gets to match his apparent age.
  • Never Live It Down: In-Universe, Jack has a reputation for killing giants that he's at pains to deny.
  • No Bisexuals: At one point a politician breaks down claiming he was 'living a lie' when it is revealed that although he was allegedly the first gay MP he is having an affair with a woman. Jack and Mary immediately assume that he is straight.
  • No Fourth Wall: An inspector threatens to write a report about Jack's inadequacy as an NCD officer. He convinces her otherwise by pointing her out as an incidental character with whose only purpose in life is to be a problem for him to get around. She breaks down in existential despair until he promises to write a complete backstory for her.
    • When the Vicar finds out that Cripps' last words were "it's full of holes", he speculates that maybe he was talking about plot holes, hurriedly pointing out that they were holes in his vegetable plot.
      • Characters frequently commenting on Fforde's use of language. Mary mentioning after a motorcycle drives away that "screeching tyre" doesn't look or sound right despite being perfectly correct.
  • Nursery Rhyme: Obviously.
  • Physical God: Prometheus and the Jellyman.
  • The Plan: Guaranteed in anything Jasper Fforde writes.
  • Relationship Reset Button: In The Fourth Bear, Mary and Ashley get one of these when he forgets to back up his memories of the last few weeks, and then makes a Heroic Sacrifice. As far as he knows, he never got up the courage to ask her out.
  • Shout-Out: At Castle Spongg, Lord Spongg mentions that the Norwegian Blue has "beautiful plumage". Among many, many more.
    • The bears live at the Bob Southey.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Punch and Judy move in next to Jack in The Fourth Bear. They're well known, in-universe, for domestically abusing each other, and arguing very, very loudly. Yet they do seem to actually love each other—very, very loudly. They're also fairly successful marriage counselors.
    • They beat each other into the hospital, but as they point out, this is their mutually aceptable way of working out issues (and foreplay), and after hundreds of years of marriage, they are still in love with one another.
  • Stealth Pun: It's all about characters from nursery rhymes and mythology, crime-solving guided by knowledge of tropes and plot devices and the way nursery rhymes play out, set in the town of Reading, (even if it is pronounced "Redding".)
  • Stepford Suburbia: The Fourth Bear opens in one.
  • Talking Animal: The Fourth Bear
  • Tanks For The Memories
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Very much in effect in regards to the nursery characters. However, Jack takes care to point out that things don't always play out exactly like in the stories.
  • They Walk Among Us: Fairy tale characters, Greek gods, anthropomorphic bears...
  • Threshold Guardians: See No Fourth Wall.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Being forced to confront your fictional status can be very traumatic, especially if you don't have a lot of characterization.
  • Turn in Your Badge (and watch Columbo.) Happens to Jack quite a lot - he holds the record for "Most Suspended Police Officer (UK)" - as much for dramatic purposes as anything else.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: In "The Fourth Bear," Jack is required to meet with a therapist named Virginia Kreeper. He Lampshades this and gives her an existential crisis by calling her a Threshold Guardian. See No Fourth Wall above.
  • World War I: The theme park Sommeworld in The Fourth Bear. Construction should be finished by Christmas. No, really.
  • Writer on Board: In The Big Over Easy Fforde's fears of Adaptation Decay shine through when an actress' career is destroyed after she appears in a terrible film based on The Eyre Affair.
    • The Fourth Bear also offers a scene where Jack and his wife attend a gala honoring the year's most prolific writers, and Jasper Fforde, author of wacky fantasies, really seems to have some fun portraying authors of serious drama as a bunch of shallow, self-obsessed, slow-witted snobs with no imagination.
  • Gambit Pileup: Pretty much everyone was trying to kill Humpty Dumpty, either as part of a larger plan, or just out of revenge.