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The Fourth Bear October 16, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.

Jasper Fforde is a maddeningly inventive author. Either that or he’s just plain mad. Anyone who’s read his much beloved and well established Thursday Next series of novels can attest to this, what with Fforde’s keen wit, his ability to drop reference upon reference to numerous literary works without coming across as the least but pretentious, and his knack for playing with the reader by literally turning the printed page into something absolutely fun to peruse. In short, whatever Fforde writes has character in spades — and yes, he’s done it again with the sophomore offering to his newly minted Nursery Crime series, The Fourth Bear.

The story takes place four months after the events in The Big Over Easy. Having solved the mysterious death of Humpty Dumpty, Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Division (NCD) find themselves with a whole lot more on their plate. The city of Reading, Berkshire has plunged into a state of mass hysteria with that most feared psychopathic “person of dubious reality”, the Gingerbreadman, on the loose. Yet inasmuch as this should fall naturally within the jurisdiction of the NCD, Jack and Mary are off the case. Instead, they are assigned to look into the sudden disappearance of one Henrietta Hatchett, also known as Goldilocks, journalist and outspoken proponent of ursine rights. It soon becomes apparent that more ties the two cases together than meets the eye, and what follows is a truly enjoyable romp of detective fiction.

For a new addition to an ongoing series, The Fourth Bear is an excellent place for the uninitiated to become acquainted with Fforde’s work. Although it references some of the events in the Big Over Easy, it is reasonably self-contained and can be enjoyed without much background information from the first book. That having been said, those who have followed the series from its inception are in for a treat: The Fourth Bear runs with the ball passed on to it by its predecessor with great effect. The world introduced to readers in the first book is fleshed out further in this installment, making a setting already built around the improbable and untold story of nursery rhyme characters and other mainstays of popular fiction all the more alluring.

Unlike its precursor, though, The Fourth Bear’s plot is less straighforward: the series of crimes that Jack Spratt and company to investigate requires more time in the narrative to set up. Yet it is also for this reason that the book absolutely shines when things come together for the big reveal. To some degree its title already gives away a lot of what to expect from the whodunit, so being taken on the ride to get there is the real fun. Oh, and to base a story loosely on Goldilocks and the three bears and offer a definitive explanation for how three bowls of porridge poured at the same time could have different temperatures? Simply inspired and too good for words.



1. Cliff Burns - October 16, 2007

Good on you for reading Jasper Fforde, he’s not an easy author but he is a rewarding one and his books overflow with literary references and in-jokes for true bibliophiles.

I just finished a terrifically funny and inventive novel called JIM GIRAFFE
(authored by Daren King). If you like the wackiness of Fforde, you might give it a look…

2. Brian L. Belen - October 16, 2007

The book suggestion is most welcome. I’ll be sure to check it out soon. At present, next on my reading queue are Mark Gatiss’s The Vesuvius Club (Jasper Fforde had a “soundbyte” on the front cover, so I hope it lives up to my expectations) and I.J. Parker’s Island of Exiles (because I absolutely enjoyed her series of novels about Sugawara Akitada).

Thanks for dropping by!

3. I.J.Parker - October 18, 2007

Thanks, Brian. 🙂 (And it will.)

4. Brian L. Belen - October 18, 2007

Thanks for reading through my blog, Ms. Parker! I realize now that something was wrong with the above link to my prior post on your books and have fixed it. 🙂 As a fan, I hope that it does justice to your work and helps get the word out about Akitada and his fantastic series of mysteries.

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