The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde looked promising. “Brilliantly, breathlessly odd.” USA Today called it. ‘Odd’ is one of my favorite adjectives when applied to light prose, and the recommendations on the back cover of the book reinforced the impression, comparing Fforde to the creators of the Simpsons and to Douglas Adams, mentioning outrageous satirical agility, and so forth. I thought I was in for a treat.
What I got was certainly pleasant, and I did chuckle frequently while reading, but I was not swept away. Inspector Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division of the Reading police force is trying to solve the case of a missing reporter who went by the name Goldilocks, last seen in the company of three bears. She was preparing to blow the lid off a huge story that had something to do with championship cucumbers. Inspector Spratt is himself a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), which makes him uniquely qualified to wade through the myriad of credulity-stretching oddities and clues. Meanwhile, the Gingerbreadman has escaped from the mental hospital and has resumed his killing spree…
There are puns aplenty, occasional self-referential humor, and a nudge-nudge feeling pervades the book. Being up on your nursery rhymes will certainly help; I was pretty vague on the Jack Sprat rhyme, for instance. While I found it easy to put the story down, I also found it easy to pick back up again.
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