"It was the week following Easter"
If Queen Anne hadn’t suffered so badly from Gout and Dropsy, Reading might never have developed at all. In 1702 the unhealthy Queen Anne, looking for a place to ease her Royal infirmities, chanced upon Bath; and where Royalty goes, so too does society. In consequence, Reading, up until that time a small town on a smaller tributary of the Thames, became a busy staging post on the Bath road, later to become the A4, and ultimately the M4. The town was enriched by the wool trade and later played host to several large firms that were to become household names. By the time Huntley & Palmers biscuits began here in 1822, Simonds brewery was already well established; and when Suttons Seeds began in 1835 and Spongg's footcare in 1853, the town's prosperity was assured.
-excerpt from A History of Reading
It was the week following Easter in Reading, and no one could remember the last sunny day. Gray clouds swept across the sky, borne on a chill wind that cut like a knife. It seemed that spring had forsaken the town. The drab winter weather had clung to the town like a heavy smog, refusing to relinquish the season. Even the early bloomers were in denial. Only the bravest crocuses had graced the municipal park, and the daffodils, usually a welcome splash of color after a winter of grayness, had taken one sniff at the cold, damp air and postponed blooming for another year. A police officer was gazing with mixed emotions at the dreary cityscape from the seventh floor of Reading Central Police Station. She was thirty and attractive, dressed up and dated down, worked hard and felt awkward near anyone she didn't know. Her name was Mary. Mary Mary. And she was from Basingstoke, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
"Mary?" said an officer who was carrying a large potted plant in the manner of someone who thinks it is well outside his job description. "Superintendent Briggs will see you now. How often do you water these things?"
"That one?" replied Mary without emotion. "Never. It’s plastic."
"I’m a policeman," he said unhappily, "not a sodding gardener."
And he walked off, mumbling darkly to himself.
She turned from the window, approached Briggs's closed door and paused. She gathered her thoughts, took a deep breath and stood up straight. Reading wouldn't have been everyone's choice for a transfer, but for Mary, Reading had one thing that no other city possessed: DCI Friedland Chymes. He was a veritable powerhouse of a sleuth whose career was a catalog of inspired police work, and his unparalleled detection skills had filled the newspaper columns for over two decades. Chymes was the reason Mary had joined the police force in the first place. Ever since her father had bought her a subscription to Amazing Crime Stories when she was nine, she'd been hooked. She had thrilled at "The Mystery of the Wrong Nose," been galvanised by "The Poisoned Shoe" and inspired by "The Sign of Three and a Half." Twenty-one years further on, Friedland was still a serious international player in the world of competitive detecting, and Mary had never missed an issue. Chymes was currently ranked by Amazing Crime second in their annual league rating, just behind Oxford's ever-popular Inspector Moose.
"Hmm," murmured Superintendent Briggs, eyeing Mary's job application carefully as she sat uncomfortably on a plastic chair in an office that was empty apart from a desk, two chairs, them- and a trombone lying on a tattered chaise longue.
"Your application is mostly very good, Mary," he said approvingly. "I see you were with Detective Inspector Hebden Flowwe. How did that go?"
It hadn’t gone very well at all, but she didn’t think she’d say so.
"We had a fairly good clear-up rate, sir."
"I’ve no doubt you did. But more important, anything published?"
It was a question that was asked more and more in front of promotion boards and transfer interviews and listed in performance reports. It wasn't enough to be a conscientious and invaluable assistant to one's allotted inspector—you had to be able to write up a readable account for the magazines that the public loved to read. Preferably Amazing Crime Stories, but, failing that, Sleuth Illustrated.
"Only one story in print, sir. But I was the youngest officer at Basingstoke to make detective sergeant and have two commendations for brav-"
"The thing is," interrupted Briggs, "is that the Oxford & Berkshire Police prides itself on producing some of the most readable detectives in the country." He walked over to the window and looked out at the rain striking the glass. "Modern policing isn't just about catching criminals, Mary. It’s about good copy and ensuring that cases can be made into top-notch documentaries on the telly. Public approval is the all-important currency these days, and police budgets ebb and flow on the back of circulation and viewing figures."
"DS Flotsam's work penning Friedland Chymes's adventures is the benchmark by which you should try to aspire, Mary. Selling the movie rights to Friedland Chymes-the Smell of Fear was a glory moment for everyone at Reading Central, and rightly so. Just one published work, you say? With Flowwe?"
"Yes, sir. A two-parter in Amazing Crime. Jan-Feb 1999 and adapted for TV."
He nodded his approval.
"Well, that’s impressive. Prime-time dramatization?"
"No, sir. Documentary on MoleCable-62."
His face fell. Clearly, at Reading they expected better things. Briggs sat down and looked at her record again.
"Now, it says here one reprimand: You struck Detective Inspector Flowwe with an onyx ashtray. Why was that?"
"The table lamp was too heavy," she replied, truthfully enough, "and if I’d used a chair, it might have killed him."
"Which is illegal, of course" added Briggs, glad for an opportunity to show off his legal knowledge. "What happened? Personal entanglements?"
"Equal blame on both sides, sir," she replied, thinking it would be better to be impartial over the whole affair. "I was foolish. He was emotionally ... dishonest."
Briggs closed the file.
"Well, I don’t blame you. Hebden was always a bit of a bounder. He pinged my partner's bra strap at an office party once, you know. She wasn't wearing it at the time," he added after a moment's reflection, "but the intention was clear."
"That sounds like DI Flowwe," replied Mary.
Briggs drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment.
"Do you want to hear me play the trombone?"
"Might it be prejudicial to my career if I were to refuse?"
"It’s a distinct possibility."
"Then I’d be delighted."
So Briggs walked over to the chaise longue, picked up the trombone, worked the slide a couple of times and blew a few notes, much to the annoyance of whoever had the office next door, who started to thump angrily on the wall.
"Drug squad," explained Briggs unhappily, putting the instrument down, "complete heathens. Never appreciate a good tune."
"I was wondering," said Mary before he had a chance to start playing again. "This detective sergeant's job I'm applying for. Who is it with?"
He looked at his watch.
"An excellent question. In ten minutes we're holding a press conference. I've a detective in urgent need of a new sergeant, and I think you'll fit the bill perfectly. Shall we?"
The pressroom was five floors below, and an expectant journalistic hubbub greeted their ears while they were still walking down the corridor. They stepped inside and stood as unobtrusively as possible at the back of the large and airy room. Mary could see from the "Oxford & Berkshire Police"-bedecked podium and high turnout that press conferences here were taken with a great deal more seriousness than she had known, which probably reflected this city's preeminence over Basingstoke when it came to serious crime. It wasn't that Reading had any more murders than Basingstoke-it just had better ones. Reading and the Thames Valley area was more of a "fairy cakes laced with strychnine" or "strangulation with a silk handkerchief" sort of place, where there were always bags of interesting suspects, convoluted motives and seemingly insignificant clues hidden in an inquiry of incalculable complexity yet solved within a week or two. By contrast, murders in Basingstoke were strictly blunt instruments, drunkenly wielded, solved within the hour-or not at all. Mary had worked on six murder investigations and, to her great disappointment, hadn’t once discovered one of those wonderful clues that seem to have little significance but later, in an epiphanic moment, turn the case on its head and throw the guilty light on someone previously eliminated from the inquiries.
She didn’t have time how to muse upon the imaginative shortcoming of Basingstoke's criminal fraternity any longer, as there was a sudden hushing of the pressmen, a burst of spontaneous applause, and a handsome man in his mid-fifties strode dramatically from a side door.
"Goodness!" said Mary. "That’s"
"Yup," said Briggs, with the pride of a father who has just seen his son win everything at sports day. "Detective Inspector Friedland Chymes."
Friedland Chymes! In person. There was a hush as the famous detective stepped up to the podium. The assembled two dozen newspapermen readied themselves, pens poised, for his statement.
Thank you for attending, he began, sweeping back his blond hair and gazing around the room with his lively blue eyes, causing flutters when they lingered ever so slightly with the women present in the room, Mary included. She found herself almost automatically attracted to him. He was strong, handsome, intelligent, fearless-the most alpha of alpha males. Working with him would be an honor.
"It was the small traces of pastry around the gunshot wound on Colonel Peabody's body that turned the case for me," began the great detective, his sonorous tones filling the air like music, "minute quantities of shortcrust whose butter/flour ratio I found to be identical to a medium-size Bowyer's pork pie. The assailant had fired his weapon through the tasty snack to muffle the sound of the shot. The report heard later was a firecracker set off by a time fuse, thus giving an alibi to the assailant, who I can reveal to you now was."
The whole room leaned forward in expectation. Chymes, his only apparent vanity a certain showmanship, paused for dramatic effect before announcing the killer.
"Miss Celia Mangersen, the victim’s niece and, unbeknownst to us all, the sole beneficiary of the missing will, which I found hidden-as expected-within a hollowed-out statuette of Sir Walter Scott. Yes, Mr. Hatchett, you have a question?"
Josh Hatchett of The Toad newspaper had raised his hand in the front row.
"What was the significance of the traces of custard found on the Colonel's sock suspender?"
Friedland raised a finger in the air.
"An excellent question, Mr. Hatchett, and one that pushed my deducting powers to the limit. Bear with me if you will while we go through the final moments of Colonel Peabody's life. Mortally wounded and with only seconds to live, he had somehow to leave a clue to his assailant's identity. A note? Of course not-the killer would find and destroy it. Guessing correctly that a murder of this magnitude would be placed in my hands, he decided to leave behind a clue that only I could solve. Knowing the Colonel's penchant for anagrams, it was but a swift move to deduct his reasoning. The sock suspender was made in France. "Custard" in French is crème anglaise-and an anagram of this is "Celia Mangerse," which not only correctly identified the killer but also told me the Colonel died before he was able to finish the anagram."
There was more applause, and he quietened everyone down before continuing.
"But since anagram-related clues are now inadmissible as evidence, we sent the pork pie off for DNA analysis and managed to pinpoint the pie shop where it was purchased. Guessing that Miss Mangersen might have an affinity for the pies, we staked out the shop in question, and yesterday evening Miss Mangersen was taken into custody, whereupon she confessed to me in a tearful scene that served as a dramatic closure to the case. My loyal, chirpy, cockney assistant and biographer DS Flotsam will of course be writing a full report for Amazing Crime Stories in due course, after the formality of a trial. Ladies and gentlemen: The case is closed!"
The assembled journalists rose as one and burst into spontaneous applause. Chymes dismissed the adulation with a modest wave of the hand and excused himself, muttering something about needing to open a hospital for orphaned sick children.
"He's amazing!" breathed Mary, somehow convincing herself-as had all the other women present-that Chymes had winked at her across the crowded room.
"I agree," replied Briggs, standing aside as the newsmen filed out, eager to get the stories into the late editions. "Don’t you love that 'the case is closed!' stuff? I wish I had a catchphrase. He’s an asset not only to us here at Reading but also to the nation-there aren't many countries that haven't requested his thoughts on some intractable and ludicrously complex inquiry.
"He's remarkable," agreed Mary.
"Indeed," went on Briggs, seemingly swept up in a paroxysm of hagiographic hero worship. "He's also a hilarious raconteur, has a golf handicap of two, was twice world aerobatic champion and plays the clarinet as well as Artie Shaw. Speaks eight languages, too, and is often consulted by the Jellyman himself on important matters of state."
"I’m going to enjoy working with him, I can see," replied Mary happily. "When do I start?"
"Chymes?" echoed Briggs with a faint yet unmistakably patronizing laugh. "Goodness gracious no! You’re not working with Chymes!"
"Who then?" asked Mary, attempting to hide her disappointment, and failing.
Mary followed Briggs’s outstretched finger to an untidy figure who had taken his turn at the podium. He was in his mid-forties, had graying hair and one eye marginally higher than the other, giving him the lopsided look of someone deep in thought. If he was deep in thought, considered Mary, it was clearly about something more important than his personal appearance. His suit could have done with a good pressing, his hair styled any way but the way he had it. He might have shaved a little less hurriedly and made more of an attempt to exude some-any-confidence . He fumbled with his papers...Revue de presse :
This year's grown-up J K Rowling ( The Sunday Times)
Now humour is notoriously subjective so what I've just described might just sound plain daft to you. But I love it. THE BIG OVER EASY is great not just because it's very funny but also because it works properly as a whodunnit. Comic genius. ( Observer,Peter Guttridge)
A riot of puns, in-jokes and literary allusions that Fforde carries off with aplomb (Daily Mail)
I love it. THE BIG OVER EASY is great not just because it's very funny...but also because it works properly as a whodunit...Comic genius. (Observer)
A riot of puns, in-jokes and literary allusions that Fforde carries off with aplomb (Daily Mail)
Consistently clever (Publishers Weekly)
This is the first of best-selling Fforde's hilarious, absurd and utterly compelling new series of nursery crimes for adults. (Daily Mirror)
'Consistently clever' (Publishers Weekly)
'This is the first if best-selling Fforde's hilarious, absurd and utterly compelling new series of nursery crimes for adults.' (Daily Mirror)
'Fforde offers a cascade of puns, plays on words, surrealism, satire and verbal virtuosity...Astonishingly, he stays funny for 400 pages' (The Times)
'Fforde is a master entertainer, and a wordsmith of dexterous genius. He tosses in palindromes and anagrams like a tickertape of polysyllabic cleverness. A copy of this book should be free to all purchases of Scrabble.' ( The Scotsman)
'Fforde offers a cascade of puns, plays on words, surrealism, satire and verbal virtuosity...Astonishingly, he stays funny for 400 pages' ( The Times)
'Fforde is a master entertainer, and a wordsmith of dexterous genius.' ( The Scotsman)
'Fforde may be an acquired taste, but it's worth acquiring.' ( SFX Bath)
'You want ridiculously brilliant? Look no further...' (Tower Hamlets Recorder)
'Jasper Fforde here mixes nursery rhymes with golden age detective fiction to produce something very accomplished indeed.' (Guardian)
'Fforde's writing, besides fast and sharp, is rather like an imaginative cloudburst falling to earth in rearranged pieces.' (Aberdeen Press & Journal)
'Fforde's books are more than an ingenious idea. They are written with buoyant zest and are tautly plotted. They have empathetic heroes and heroines who nearly make terribly mistakes and suitably dastardly villains who do. They also have more twists and turns than Christie, and are embellished with the rich details of a Dickens or Pratchett. As Humpty Dumpty's life-story is revealed, the mystery becomes curiouser and curiouser, and the compulsion to find out what is going on increases. A real treat.' (Independent)
'There is no more familiar genre than the detective story. The problem is that the sleuth story is now so familiar that it's in serious danger of getting boring. What's to be done? Jasper Fforde has the answer. Once you open this book, you'll find it very hard to put down. I've never read anything like this. And I couldn't get enough' (Daily Ireland)
'Fans of the late Douglas Adams or, even, Monty Python, will feel at home with Fforde' (Herald)
'If you haven't read Jasper Fforde before, THE BIG OVER EASY, is likely to come as a surprise . . . the combination of fantasy and (more of less) classic murder makes a wild and enjoyable change' (Sunday Telegraph)
'Clever plot lines, wit, and Fforde's unique humorous style ensures the reader is captivated from start to finish. A must for anyone wanting a light-hearted read in a class of its own.' (Good Book Guide)
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Description du livre Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2005. Hardcover. État : New. book. N° de réf. du libraire 0340835672