After four books in the Thursday Next series, Jasper Fforde has turned his unique imagination to the inspired joining of familiar nursery rhymes and modern detective novels. Those who remember the first and are familiar with the second will derive the most entertainment from The Big Over Easy. A working knowledge of popular British culture won't hurt either, but the jokes and puns are so varied and numerous that anyone with a good sense of humor is bound to enjoy the chase. If you miss one joke, there's another one coming in the next sentence, or maybe even later in the same one.

Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, fresh from the failure of the prosecution to get a conviction on the three pigs in the wolf's death, and his newly assigned assistant Mary Mary who has passed the Official Sidekick test and was hoping for something better than working in the under-budgeted and much maligned Nursery Crimes Division (NCD) are investigating the death of one Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloyius Stuyvesant van Dumpty, aka Humpty Dumpty. Jack, happily married to his second wife after his first wife died from eating only fat, of course with a blended family and the laziest cat that had ever lived, ever, is an admirable character, devoted to his unit, and nowhere near as bitter as he could be over the antics of former partner Friedland Chymes, who took all the credit for cases Jack solved.

One of Fforde's best running jokes is the names of the detectives who belong to the Guild of Detectives and whose exploits are recounted in the popular Amazing Crime Stories. They include Inspector Moose of Cambridge and Inspector Rhombus from Edinburgh. It took me a lot longer to get Friedland Chymes, despite being a fan of Jeffery Deaver, but I was thrilled when I did, and discoveries like that are part of the joy of reading Fforde's latest creation.

Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.

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