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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Fourth Bear

by Jasper Fforde


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The Fourth Bear

by Jasper Fforde

Reviewed August 7, 2007.
Viking, New York, 2006. 378 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2006: #5 Mystery Fiction

Jasper Fforde’s books are impossible to satisfactorily classify. Perhaps I should start a new category for his books only. Let’s see—I could call it “humor for clever readers” or “fantasy-sci-fi-mystery-humor-with literary allusions.” I took the easy way out by calling the Thursday Next books “science fiction,” since they do involve alternate universes, and I called the first of the Nursery Crime series “mystery,” since it is a detective story. However, the fact that the detective is a character in a nursery rhyme investigating such people as the Gingerbreadman and Goldilocks and the Quangle-Wangle, does make it an extremely atypical detective story.

I could call this fantasy, but it’s very different from what people expect from that category. So I’ll stick with “mystery,” which scratches the surface of what this book is about.

In The Fourth Bear, the second book in the Nursery Crime series, Jack Spratt investigates the disappearance of Goldilocks. He’s currently in trouble for letting the wolf eat Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Although they were saved by a woodsman, they’re traumatized and won’t speak.

Jack’s boss is after him to get a psychiatric evaluation and some time resting. What Jack’s critics don’t realize is that the wolf also ate Jack. He puts his life on the line, but doesn’t think he needs therapy. He’s used to such bizarre circumstances—They’re all in a day’s work. Besides, how can he rest when that homicidal maniac, the Gingerbreadman, has escaped from the asylum?

There’s great fun in this book, though you do have to tolerate a few groaners, like a waiter who seems familiar in the Déjà vu Hotel. In the Thursday Next books, we saw what it’s like to be in books from the characters’ perspectives, so that prepared me for passages like this one:

Jack and his partner Mary Mary had just been discussing at great length and alliteration the fact that “Pippa Piper picked Peck over Pickle or Pepper.” The text reads:

There was a pause.

“It seems a very laborious setup for a pretty lame joke, doesn’t it?” mused Jack.

“Yes,” agreed Mary, shaking her head sadly. “I really don’t know how he gets away with it.”

Well, Jasper Fforde, the man who successfully used eleven hads in a row in The Well of Lost Plots, has gotten away with it again!