Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Fourth Bear, Jasper Fforde

The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime, #2)The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. 

I just love Jasper Fforde. He does stuff that no other author could probably get away with. "Five years ago, Viking introduced Jasper Fforde and his upsidedown, inside-out literary crime masterpieces. And as they move from Thursday Next to Jack Spratt's Nursery Crimes, his audience is insatiable and growing. Now, with The Fourth Bear, Jack Spratt and Mary Mary take on their most dangerous case so far as a murderous cookie stalks the streets of Reading. The Gingerbreadman - psychopath, sadist, genius, and killer- is on the loose. But it isn't Jack Spratt's case. He and Mary Mary have been demoted to Missing Persons following Jack's poor judgment involving the poisoning of Mr. Bun the baker. Missing Persons looks like a boring assignment until a chance encounter leads them into the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta "Goldy" Hatchett, star reporter for The Daily Mole. Last to see her alive? The Three Bears, comfortably living out a life of rural solitude in Andersen's wood. But all is not what it seems. How could the bears' porridge be at such disparate temperatures when they were poured at the same time? Why did Mr. and Mrs. Bear sleep in separate beds? Was there a fourth bear? And if there was, who was he, and why did he try to disguise Goldy's death as a freak accident? Jack answers all these questions and a few others besides, rescues Mary Mary from almost certain death, and finally meets the Fourth Bear and the Gingerbreadman face-to-face."

There are so many hilarious things about this novel. In one chapter, Jack gets a new car which remarkably never gets damaged. The car-dealer, Dorian Gray, reveals the secret: anything that happens to the car happens to a little portrait instead. Oscar Wilde reference alert! There's also a controversy about bears: "the right to arm bears". Bears play a major role in this book; they're a huge problem, and many humans are ursinist. There's also a character named David Copperfield, who is put in charge of the investigation to catch the Gingerbreadman. 

Sometimes the jokes can get a bit old, but only sometimes. The rest of the time, this book is just hilarious and an interesting mystery too. It has a lot of similarity to The Eyre Affair, though it's set in a different alternate universe. There are lots of literary references, and even more nursery crime and fairy tale references. Jack Spratt himself is a PDR, a person of dubious reality. He can eat no fat. So is Mary Mary (quite contrary). 

The Fourth Bear is the second in the series, but that didn't matter much. It's not that confusing, and one doesn't have to have read the first book dealing with Humpty-Dumpty's mysterious death. I might read the first one, but I'm not really eager to. 

The Fourth Bear was almost as clever as The Eyre Affair (they rhyme!). It certainly had its moments. There are many, many subplots, particularly that of the Gingerbreadman, a mad mass-murderer who's escaped. And nobody can catch him. He keeps sending the police taunting notes and murdering more people. Also, Jack is not supposed to be handling the case, but he keeps stumbling upon the Gingerbreadman while doing other things.

The main mystery has to do with a missing reporter, bears, a mysterious wood, explosions, and...giant cucumbers? Yup, that's right. I won't say any more about the cucumbers for fear of giving anything away, but they play a major role in the solving of the mystery. 

The Fourth Bear is an enjoyable and humorous read.

Read The Fourth Bear:
  • if you like Jasper Fforde
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like books with nursery rhyme characters
  • if you like quirky fantasy 
  • if you like books set in alternate universes (England)
378 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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