Jack Spratt is the man in charge of the NCD (Nursery Crimes Division)—the man who is, at the beginning of the book, trying the three pigs for the murder of the "big, bad" wolf. (Seems wolfie was a vegetarian ...) The trial goes poorly (who would convict three adorable little pigs?), and the future of the NCD is in jeopardy.
Then Humpty Dumpty takes his famous nosedive. And when the forensic work is done, the evidence shows that Humpty was ... shot. The case is suddenly very high profile, and a successful investigation could not only save the NCD but land Jack on the pages of Amazing Crime, and possibly gain him membership in the Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives. But in this case, the only sure thing is that nothing is certain ...
Fans of the Thursday Next series will enjoy this one. Fans of nursery rhymes might enjoy it. Fans of Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and other forms of British comedy will certainly enjoy this.
There are so many allusions to Fforde's other works, not to mention a few inside jokes (including the appearance of a remarkable Norwegien blue parrot) that I found myself constantly pausing in my reading to go back and savor something I'd just read. The book seems to be set in the future of the Thursday Next universe (Lola Vavoom makes an appearance, and reference is mad to her appearance in the film The Eyre Affair, which seems to have been a monstrous flop). If you've read Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots, you might recognize a few people also (I need to go back and re-read that one, just to check my memory).
Fforde's sense of humor is wonderful, but some of the best stuff in the book is subtle. Everything from the opening disclaimers to the ads in the back are fair game—the chapter quotes are particularly interesting reading (one gives a big hint to the outcome of the case). With more books on the way (The Fourth Bear is promised in July of 2006), I think it's safe to say that the Nursery Crime stories will quickly become as popular as the Thursday Next books have.