Monday, 5 May 2014

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Nursery Crime Division head, Jack Spratt, has a Gingerbreadman on the loose. And a missing reporter named Goldilocks. And Punch and Judy just moved in next door, raising the noise level in the neighbourhood considerably.

Did I mention that one of his constables is an alien named Ashley? Or that he bought a car from Dorian Grey that self-repairs (although that painting in the trunk is getting pretty beat-up)? Or that porridge-smuggling among bears is on the rise? Or that cucumbers might just be the deadliest substance on earth?

Ah, Jasper Fforde. Your books are insane, but they're just the kind of insane I like. And The Fourth Bear works quite well as a straightforward mystery, despite all the nursery rhyme and literary trappings. Cases end up being interlocked in ways that are strange, but internally logical.

There are a few too many nods of the characters to the author, as they know they're in a book, but I suppose that if anyone was going to realize they were part of a narrative tale, it would be those who police literary creations. (The Pippa joke and the resulting lines did tickle my funnybone.)

The subplot with Jack's wife finding out he was a nursery rhyme character himself was disposed of rather too quickly, and with a pat, unsatisfying leap to a conclusion.

Fforde always creates these worlds that are several steps east of normal, but he thinks them through, and creates a world and stays within it. I find them amusing, and challenging, and enjoyable. The Fourth Bear is nowhere near as good as Shades of Grey, which I absolutely adored, but it is a solid mystery, an amusing tale, and a loving romp through worlds I haven't played in since I was a child.

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