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Fourth Bear [Paperback]

Jasper Fforde
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2007 Nursery Crime
The inimitable Jasper Fforde gives readers another delightful mash-up of detective fiction and nursery rhyme, returning to those mean streets where no character is innocent. The Gingerbreadman—sadist, psychopath, cookie—is on the loose in Reading, but that’s not who Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary are after. Instead, they’ve been demoted to searching for missing journalist "Goldy" Hatchett. The last witnesses to see her alive were the reclusive Three Bears, and right away Spratt senses something furry—uh, funny—about their story, starting with the porridge. The Fourth Bear is a delirious new romp from our most irrepressible fabulist.

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Fourth Bear + Eyre Affair + Lost In A Good Book
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From Publishers Weekly

Like The Big Over Easy (2005), Fforde's first Nursery Crime novel, this sequel offers literary allusions, confusions and gentle satire, though, again like its predecessor, it lacks the snap of the author's Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair, etc.). Jack Spratt, DCI of the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Police Department, is also a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), as are most of the characters Jack deals with, including the Gingerbreadman, a notorious killer, and Punch and Judy, a violence prone couple who are also marriage counselors. An alien policeman named Ashley, talking bears, a devoted group of cucumber-growing enthusiasts and an immensely powerful company, Quang Tech, add spice. All are grist for Fforde, whose word play runs the gamut from puns to shaggy dog stories. The Gingerbreadman's on the loose, Goldilocks is missing and Jack's once again persona non grata at headquarters. As Jack and his associates "bring justice to the nursery world," they also cast a Swiftian eye on corporate hubris, race relations, the drug trade and myriad other targets. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Still on leave from his wildly inventive Thursday Next series (Something Rotten, 2004), Fforde offers a second entry in his wildly inventive Nursery Crime series (The Big Over Easy, 2005). The sadistic and superpowerful Gingerbreadman, nemesis of Jack Spratt, has escaped from St. Cerebellum's secure hospital for the criminally insane. Unfortunately, Spratt has been suspended pending psychological evaluation for his role in the Red Riding Hood fiasco. Though at first he resists doing "a plot device number twenty-six" and hunting for the Gingerbreadman on his own, eventually Spratt has no choice but to follow the rules of detective convention. All he and his mismatched team have to do is find the links between exploding extreme-cucumber-growers, a missing reporter nicknamed Goldilocks, a theme park called SommeWorld, and, oh yes, porridge dealers. Chockablock with puns, literary allusions, groanworthy asides, and playful dismantling of the police procedural--wearing its love for an almost-extinct form of children's literature like a tattoo--The Fourth Bear will appeal to fans of whimsy, silliness, or plain old nonsense. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Outrageous Fun! Sept. 18 2006
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
When was the last time you read a totally off-the-wall novel that stretched your imagination past where it had ever been before? Much as I've enjoyed Mr. Fforde's earlier works (The Big Over Easy in this series and The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten in the Thursday Next series), The Fourth Bear took me to new and more interesting places than I had enjoyed in many years. It was much like the experience of first reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The Nursery Crime Division is back again with Jack Spratt, Mary Mary and Ashley (the alien) pursuing offbeat crimes involving Persons of Dubious Reality (fictional characters). As usual, the members of NCD are constantly being shunted aside, put on probation and ordered off serious cases. But they soldier on in hilarious offbeat fashion. We get to know each of them better in this novel as the story extends to include their relations with the opposite sex.

There are so many oddball threads to this story that you'll wonder how in the world they might be connected. But it doesn’t really matter, because each page is full of standalone wit, satire and outrageous good fun.

I hesitate to describe much about the book except to note that it features a homicidal killer, the Gingerbreadman, who is a sort of edible version of an angry Wookie. He likes to tear the arms off his victims. You'll learn a lot about cucumbers and their potential. In addition, the hidden side of several storybook characters will be revealed in surprising ways.

As in The Big Over Easy, the overall novel is written as a police procedural (which aspect itself is quite a satire of the genre). There are solid clues embedded throughout that will safely lead you to the right conclusions . . .
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Outrageous Fun! Sept. 18 2006
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
When was the last time you read a totally off-the-wall novel that stretched your imagination past where it had ever been before? Much as I've enjoyed Mr. Fforde's earlier works (The Big Over Easy in this series and The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten in the Thursday Next series), The Fourth Bear took me to new and more interesting places than I had enjoyed in many years. It was much like the experience of first reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The Nursery Crime Division is back again with Jack Spratt, Mary Mary and Ashley (the alien) pursuing offbeat crimes involving Persons of Dubious Reality (fictional characters). As usual, the members of NCD are constantly being shunted aside, put on probation and ordered off serious cases. But they soldier on in hilarious offbeat fashion. We get to know each of them better in this novel as the story extends to include their relations with the opposite sex.

There are so many oddball threads to this story that you'll wonder how in the world they might be connected. But it doesn’t really matter, because each page is full of standalone wit, satire and outrageous good fun.

I hesitate to describe much about the book except to note that it features a homicidal killer, the Gingerbreadman, who is a sort of edible version of an angry Wookie. He likes to tear the arms off his victims. You'll learn a lot about cucumbers and their potential. In addition, the hidden side of several storybook characters will be revealed in surprising ways.

As in The Big Over Easy, the overall novel is written as a police procedural (which aspect itself is quite a satire of the genre). There are solid clues embedded throughout that will safely lead you to the right conclusions . . .
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  94 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh-out-loud funny... without ever becoming dumb Aug. 31 2006
By Esther Schindler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's very hard for any author to be funny, and to stay funny for the length of a whole novel... much less for an ongoing series. Fforde achieves it by always having a clear sense of where he's going, even when the plot appears to have as little structure as a Marx Brothers movie or a Monty Python skit. Or, should I say, as little *apparent* structure.

The plots may be a little on the strange side -- we're talking here about a storyline based on the search for Goldilocks, which encompasses competitive cucumbers, the secret morals of the Easter Bunny, porridge allotments for bears, and a space alien who talks in binary -- but the characters become real people (or, uh, bears). You care about them, and before you know it, you _really_ want to know who is behind all of the intertwined events.

But mostly, Fforde is extremely funny. He never descends into dumbness or predictability, and just when you think he's set you up for one verbal pratfall, he takes the story in a wholly unexpected direction.

You *could* read this book without first reading the first in the Nursery Crime series; the story does stand on its own. However, I think you'll enjoy this one more if you read the earlier book first.

In either case, though -- this is a marvelous romp. Highly recommended for carbon-based life forms who wish a reason to laugh.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why *were* those bears sleeping apart, anyway? Aug. 3 2006
By David Roy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Nursery Crimes detective Jack Spratt is back on the case in The Fourth Bear, and it's a much better book than the first one (The Big Over Easy). I really enjoyed the first book, but found myself not laughing as much as I would have liked. The second, however, solves that problem. There were many instances where I laughed for a while, enjoying Fforde's turn of phrase or a new concept. Virtually every one of my complaints from the first book disappeared as Fforde appears to have dropped them, or at least sidelined them. And the end of the book is even better, with the announcement that not only is Jack Spratt returning, but a new Thursday Next novel is coming out next year too!

The glory from Detective Spratt's solving of the Humpty Dumpty murder doesn't last long, especially after a series of mishaps in subsequent cases, such as the Red Riding Hood case, where unfortunately a few people were eaten by the wolf before the case was solved. But Spratt has more important things to worry about now. The sinister psychopath, The Gingerbread Man, has escaped from the mental asylum that Jack put him into twenty years ago, and he's going on a rampage. But Jack's not in charge of the investigation, having been ordered to take a psych evaluation. Instead, he follows up on the death of a reporter named Goldilocks, a friend to the huge bear population living in the area. After a gruesome discovery, Spratt and his partner, Mary Mary, move to uncover a sinister plot that may go extremely high up. But why does Jack keep happening upon the Gingerbread Man, and why does he leave Jack alive every time? Is he a cookie or a cake? And what do the intricacies of bear society, the illegal trafficking in black market porridge, and a theme park based on the Battle of the Somme have to do with each other? Jack may not survive to find out.

Fforde demonstrates his mastery of the absurd in The Fourth Bear, piling on the situations and incorporating multiple nursery rhymes and children's stories into an intricate tapestry that holds together remarkably well. He also moves the characters forward, dispensing with situations that were already dealt with in The Big Over Easy. Friedland Chymes, Jack's rival on the force, is gone (I figured he'd be back for the second novel). There is hardly a mention of the "the more famous and published a detective you are, the more likely you are to get a guilty verdict" idea that was prominent in the first book. These omissions strengthen the book, as the inclusion of either one would have dragged it down a bit. The publication idea was amusing throughout the first book, but I think that concept was worn out.

So what does The Fourth Bear have going for it? It still has the strong characterization of all the regulars. Jack is a very interesting character, quick of wit, slightly insane (you'd have to be to deal with the types of crimes the Nursery Crimes division does), and he has a few personal problems to deal with as well. Mary Mary is also wonderfully done, hitting it off with the alien Nursery Crimes officer and exposing a more personal side to her character. The other characters in the books are great too, with Fforde giving them just as much depth as they need to leap off the page. The various bears, the Gingerbread Man (wonderfully psychotic with a wit to match), the cops, even the incidental characters, almost all of them are fun to read about.

What make every Fforde book worth reading, however, are the concepts that he comes up with. The introduction to the book has a set piece in a village with the most well-behaved children in the country, because it's a village where the childhood warnings literally come true ("if you suck your thumb, the Scissor-Man will come and cut your thumb off"). Jack and the Nursery Crimes division have to trap the Scissor-Man, using a local family as bait. There are also the convoluted ways that bear society works, which Fforde manages to make perfectly understandable and which are also instrumental in figuring out what happened to Goldilocks. I loved the way that porridge is controlled because of what it does to bears, and what they often do to get more than their monthly quota. All of the chapter headings are entries in the "Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, 2004 edition," and most of them are hilarious as well.

Despite the weirdness, though, everything hangs together beautifully, resulting in a world that is coherent (if strange) and everything makes a weird sort of sense. Nursery rhyme and children's story characters can live and work amongst the populace, bears are the new minority with the government trying to protect them (a bill was recently tabled but voted down, called "The Right to Arm Bears").

There was only one real problem with the book, and that was the resolution of Jack's personal problems. It was a little too quick, and while it resulted in a funny turn on the whole "Punch and Judy" phenomenon (Punch and Judy are Jack's new neighbours, and they fight and make up constantly, fitting their roles from the popular stage show, but the book gives them a nice little twist at the end. Unfortunately, it's the only really good part of the resolution.

The Fourth Bear is hilarious novel, much better than The Big Over Easy. If you enjoyed that one, then you will really love this one. Fforde's let his imagination run wild again, and I loved the results. I'm anxiously awaiting the next ones.

David Roy
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars That's the way the gingerbread crumbles Aug. 20 2006
By Amanda Richards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Who'd have thought that those old nursery rhymes and fairy tales would have had so much going on behind the scenes? Fresh from their largely forgotten triumphs in "The Big Over Easy", Jack Spratt, Mary Mary and the rest of the Nursery Crime Division find themselves faced with new challenges.

The psychopathic killer known as the Gingerbread Man is loose, and true to his legend, he runs as fast as he can and you just can't catch him. Added to that, prize cucumbers are disappearing, mysterious explosions are vaporising chucks of real estate, Goldilocks is missing, and relationships with the bears are about to boil over due to porridge control issues.

Officially, Jack is off the case and in disgrace, and although Mary Mary takes over for a while, she is also busted on an overexposure charge. The Gingerbread Man case is given to David Copperfield, and there are no great expectations for solving it, but then again, you can't keep a good fictional character down for long.

If you thought that the DaVinci Code was startling, there are also many revelations in this book - a must-read if you want to know why the three bowls of porridge were at different temperatures, if gingerbread is a cake or a cookie, and why deals from used car salesmen are often too good to be true.

Amanda Richards, August 20, 2006
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars May Contain Nuts Aug. 17 2006
By Pseudonymous the Younger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Gingerbreadman, the arch villain in The Fourth Bear, is seven feet of vicious, manical. . . ah, cookie...(or perhaps cake)... who has escaped from an insane asylum, is having a great time tearing people's arms off, and has a grudge against Jack Spratt, the fatophobic hero of this nursery crime story.

Now perhaps you are a down-to-earth kind of person and think that swallowing a seven-foot-tall, crazy, anthropomorphic, ginja warrior, cereal-killer cookie as a villain would be difficult for you. But Jasper Fforde is a genius at taking seemingly absurd premises and turning them into stimulating, delicious tales filled with nutty goodness. The Fourth Bear, like Fforde's other tales, takes place in a world where fictional characters have lives outside of their books. In this case, the characters are from nursery rhymes and fairy tales, but don't worry, this is NOT a children's book. It is a hilarious spoof on TV and movie crime shows, complete with all your favorite crime story plot devices and chock full of delightful word play and literary references that will keep you laughing and your brain regular.

Goldilocks is dead. The Gingerbreadman is terrorizing Reading, UK. Giant cucumbers are mysteriously exploding. And to make matters worse, police detective Jack Spratt has been swallowed whole by the Big Bad Wolf. So what are you waiting for. Run, Run, Fast as you can...order your copy today!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fforde returns to fforme Sept. 23 2006
By Steven C. Simmons - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you have not encountered Fforde before, run (do not walk) to the links above and pick up The Eyre Affair. A more erudite, funny, accessible, fun read can hardly be imagined. Eyre was the first in a series of books about his literary detective Thursday Next. The later Thursday books were good but not as great as Eyre, and were followed by The Big Over Easy, first of the Nursery Crime series. Over Easy was actually a much earlier book, one that Fforde apparently returned to after the first few Thursday Next books. It reads as if he did a partial rewrite, and the end result was pretty uneven.

I'm very happy to say that The Fourth Bear is very good - certainly better than Over Easy, and better than the later Thursday Next tales.

Spoiler-free plot synopsis: Police detective Jack Spratt is head of the Nursery Crimes division, specializing in crimes related to nursery-rhyme and childrens story characters. It seems that the famous homicidal maniac The Gingerbread Man has escaped from the asylum and has resumed his serial killer spree of years before. In the meantime, investigative reporter Golilocks has disappeared while investigating some cucumbers which seem to be exploding with great violence, and all the local bears have good alibis.

Injecting the characters of nursery rhyme and childrens stories into the real world gives Fforde the opportunity for some great jokes and situations, and he takes full and unfettered advantage of the situation to tell a very funny story. I learned things I never knew before about the risks of thumb-sucking, bear social structure, alien physiology, and an entirely new set of tongue-twisting rhymes that spin off of Peter Pipers pickles. Great fun all around, and the kind of thing that Fforde does better than almost anybody.

But what sets this book a step up for Fforde is the strength of the plot. This is a real and functional mystery, complete with red herrings, maguffins, nice subtleties, office politics, both venal and honest politicians, and a resolution that works perfectly with the rest of the story. If you were to strip it of its fantastic and humorous elements (and you could! (though you shouldn't)) there would still be an interesting mystery with interesting characters.

And really, you can't ask for much more than that.
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