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Jasper Fforde – The Fourth Bear

August 13, 2012

84. The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde (2006)
Nursery Crimes, book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The Big Over Easy

Length: 379 pages
Genre: Humor/Fantasy/Mystery

Started: 28 July 12
Finished: 31 July 12

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? I’m a fan of Fforde’s.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 February 2008.

Something’s odd about
the thermodynamics of
the three bears’ porridge.

Summary: Detective Jack Spratt and the rest of the Nursery Crimes division have got big problems: the psychotic Gingerbread man has escaped from prison, and is loose on a murderous spree in Reading. Or rather, they would have big problems, if they hadn’t been bumped off the case by the higher-ups, and reassigned to searching for the missing journalist Goldilocks, last known to have been investigating a competitive cucumber grower who died in a freak explosion. The three bears were the last ones to see her alive, and something about their story just doesn’t add up in Jack’s reckoning… but how can he explain his theories to his superiors without losing his job and being sent to the loony bin to boot?

Review: This book was pretty much solid Fforde – wall-to-wall literary allusions and zany wackiness that somehow all fits together right at the end. Unfortunately, I picked this one up when I wasn’t really in the mood for enforced wackiness, so although I can’t really find any fault with the novel itself, I wound up finding it more tiresome than fun. Some of the jokes worked for me, but some felt like they were trying too hard, and when you even have your characters point out that the jokes are trying too hard, that little puff of metafictional cleverness just felt like really trying too hard.

Josh thought for a moment. “She’s a journalist. She wrote a long piece about whether bears should be allowed to carry weapons for self-defense.”

“The ‘right to arm bears’ controversy?” –p. 100

I didn’t solve the mystery on my own, but all of the pieces somehow (miraculously) did fit together and make their own kind of sense by the end. But my favorite parts of the books were neither the central story elements nor the throwaway gags, but rather the secondary plots and long-running threads. I was particularly charmed by Mary Mary’s and Ashley (the alien)’s relationship, and I thought Jack’s new magical self-healing car, sold to him by one strange Mr. Dorian Gray, was clever without being blaringly zany, and was used very effectively.

“Okay, so we screwed up a bit and a few people got swallowed. I mean, it’s not as though they’re dead, right?”

“‘*We* screwed up a bit’?”

“Okay, *I* screwed up a bit. I just got sidetracked by the suppressed sexual overtones regarding predatory wolves and a little girl in a red cape lost in the forest.” –p. 43

So: can’t really fault it for anything, but also didn’t really love it… although in another time and another mood, I might have had a very different reaction. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like metafiction and are in the mood for a bunch of terrible puns and general silliness wrapped around a detective story, The Fourth Bear should fit the bill quite nicely. It’s technically the second book in the Nursery Crimes series, but could easily stand alone.

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Other Reviews: The Book Brothel, The Book Frog, In Spring It Is The Dawn, Stella Matutina and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 11: “The fields and trees were a vibrant green and the spinneys rich with the sweet bouquet of honeysuckle and dog rose, the hedgerows creamy with cow parsley and alive with cyclamen.” – a small wood or thicket.
  • p. 334: “…with nothing more complex than a dibbler and a watering can.”” – a small, hand-held, pointed implement for making holes in soil for planting seedlings, bulbs, etc.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2012 3:46 pm

    I think I was in the right mood when I read it. I really liked it! Mary Mary & Ashley is great, but so is the whole “Is gingerbread a cookie or a cake?” debate and most of the jokes!

    Shades of Grey is the one I unfortunately Just Don’t Get.

    • August 16, 2012 4:23 pm

      Bookwyrme – See, I had never heard gingerbread referred to as anything but a cookie, so that running gag seemed weirdly manufactured. Do people really think it’s a cake?

      • September 3, 2012 6:51 pm

        It depends on how you make it, I think. It can be all soft & cakey. I admit, though, I sort of took Fford’s word for it that, at least in England, there’s a debate over the subject.

  2. August 13, 2012 5:32 pm

    One day I really need to get back to Jasper Fforde… I haven’t got to this one yet. I am still behind in the Thursday Next series.

    • August 16, 2012 4:24 pm

      Kailana – I’m also behind in the Thursday Next books, and it’s been long enough since I’ve read them that I’m probably going to have to re-read the whole shebang if I want to have a prayer of understanding what’s going on.

  3. August 15, 2012 3:01 pm

    Aw. The Right to Arm Bears gag, is one of my favourite in his books. Didn’t help coming across it when I was on the bus to work though. The snort I let out, had a lot of my fellow passengers looking at me… ;)

    • August 16, 2012 4:25 pm

      Bart – I’ll cop to laughing/groaning/snorting at most of the gags, including that one. Individually, they’re fine (if groan-worthy), but I was not in the mood for unrelenting punnery.

  4. August 15, 2012 7:29 pm

    almost like Kailana, I need to finally GET TO mr. Fforde! When I found it he writes series, I admit , my enthusiasm cooled, but I still feel I must read the Thursday Next stuff! I’m missing something, I just know it.

    • August 16, 2012 4:26 pm

      Care – The Thursday Next books are great, especially for book lovers. And especially for book lovers who like clever zaniness and terrible puns.

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