Book Review: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Posted January 5, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
Genres: Fairytale
Published by Viking on July 31, 2007
Pages: 404
Format: eBook
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: The Well of Lost Plots, The Big Over Easy, Something Rotten

Second in the Nursery Crime take-off-on nursery rhymes and fairytales series and revolving around a police division headed up by Jack Spratt. It’s been four months since The Big Over Easy, 1.

My Take

This one is a bit confusing, but don’t worry about it. Eventually it all comes right, as Fforde just has to set up that bit of foreshadowing. Of course, those epigraphs were still totally weird, and I don’t see how the majority of them contributed to the story. The concept, sure. But.

I do wish that Fforde would integrate mention of those subplots and plot devices more. It’s as if two worlds are colliding. Yeah, yeah, part of the collision is Fforde’s take on nursery rhymes, childhood bugaboos, and the paranormal, and it is hysterically funny and well-integrated into a detective novel. I like the idea of that “new” Allegro Equipe. At least until near the end, but then it, ahem, “improved” again. An interesting way to pull in yet another fantastical notion. But pulling in those three bears and tying them up with that reporter. Oh, yeah. That was brilliant.

You’ll want to cry about Ashley…that longed-for date with Mary… As for his parents…they can’t have been paying enough attention to TV. But when you learn of Bartholomew’s dilemma, you’ll want to crack up. Talk about “discrimination”, lol.

”Prejudice is a product of ignorance that hides behind barriers of tradition, Inspector.”

Sadly, Jack’s situation with the department is too similar to reality with his “superiors” more concerned about how things look than in getting the job done. Speaking of “looks”, Punch and Judy certainly prove that you shouldn’t judge a book by its loud, mouthy quarrels.

I’m thinking Fforde used a third-person global subjective point-of-view because we do “hear” what different characters are thinking even though Fforde doesn’t go into any real-depth with any of the characters but Jack. Probably because his character is in such conflict with himself.

That short blip about theme parks is yet another crack up. I gotta say DescarteLand sounds pretty cheap to operate, lol.

Do be sure to read the Epilogue…especially the one about Nick Demetrios. ROFL, those last two sentences…

And what are your thoughts on gingerbread? Is it a cookie or a cake? Find out which at the end!

The Story

The question is, is Jack Spratt too insane for NCD? After all, Red Riding-Hood and her grandmother are still catatonic and there’s the bait that was used on the Scissor-man. Hmmm…

The thing is, Spratt is just a cop trying to do his job, but the politics and the powers-that-be have other plans. Plans that seem to be okay with the Gingerbreadman — sadist, psychopath, cookie — being on the loose in Reading.

Even though Jack caught him last time, his “superiors” have sent Jack and Mary in search of a 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.

Yep, it’s al-l-l about the porridge.

The Characters

Detective Jack Spratt is the head of the very underfunded Nursery Crime Division. He’s buying a new-to-him Allegro Equipe — from Dorian Gray — to replace the Allegro that was destroyed. Madeleine, a photographer, has been Jack’s second wife for five years with no idea about the truth. Ben and Pandora are Jack’s kids; eight-year-old Jerome and Megan are Madeleine’s; and, eighteen-month-old Stevie is theirs. Prometheus (that Prometheus) is Pandora’s fiancé. (Bacchus has taken over the reception arrangements for the wedding.) Jerome wants to be a vet and has brought home a pet: Caliban. Aunt Beryl and her weird dog named Frubbles are creating wedding ructions.

Mrs Sittkomm is Jack’s neighbor. Neville is Madeleine’s jerk of an ex-husband.

The Nursery Crime Division (NCD) was…
…formed in 1958 by DCI Jack Horner to handle nursery-related inquiries. Besides Jack, the department consists of Sergeant Mary Mary who lives in (and is restoring) an old Short Sunderland flying boat and Constable Ashley, a Rambosian with total recall who is part of the Alien Equal Opportunities Program. Constables Charlie Baker (he’s been in danger of dying within six months for the past thirteen years) and Gretel Brown-Horrocks (she’s a forensic accountant who married Brown-Horrocks from The Big Over Easy) help out on an as-needed basis.

The rest of the police station in Reading, Berkshire County, England
The “beautiful Pippa in the control room”, a.k.a., PC Phillippa Piper, is the subject of a betting pool. Constable Peck is quite pockmarked. Superintendent Geoffrey Briggs is Jack’s immediate superior and the liaison between NCD and the rest of the police force. Despite knowing nothing, Detective Inspector David Copperfield is put in charge of the Gingerbreadman case. Sergeant Fox.

Mrs. Singh is the pathologist. Agatha Diesel is a parking attendant (married to Briggs) who wants to get it off with Jack. Dr. Virginia Kreeper is a counselor for the police. Penny and Anne Moffat are the daughters of Virginia’s brother Dave and his wife, Felicity, Virginia’s best friend. Marco Ferranti is the police claims assessor who examines damage inflicted by the cops in the course of their duties.

Raymond was one of Mary’s cousins. Mary is trying to force the sweet Arnold Westlake into the ex-boyfriend column. Mrs. Dish’s daughter ran off and married Wallace Spoon. Mr and Mrs Scroggins and their seventeen children love their heavy-metal, but Mr. Punch and Judy are much louder. Captain Nemo lives in the Nautilus and is one of Mary’s neighbors. Dr. Colin Parrot has mastered basic binary, but has a long way to go. Adrian 1001010111111101010 is his teacher. Penelope Liddell is the object of Ben’s unrequited love. Mrs Aldiss is a widow. Roger in blue gingham and Abigail with the folded newspaper and slippers are Ash’s parents and have got it all wrong. Daisy, Ash’s sister, is too human, lol. Graham is Ash’s brother. His Uncle Colin is that embarrassing relative while Cousin Eric isn’t nuts enough.

The Armitage Shanks Literary Awards are…
…attended by Otis ChufftY, a master of pseudointellectual rubbish. Marcus Sphincter, Jennifer Darkke, and Nigel Huxtable are short-listed for a prize. Attery-Squash is the head of Crumpetty Tree Press, which publishes Madeleine’s coffee table photography books. Lord Spooncurdle is an idiot; James Wheat-Reed, Esq isn’t fooling anyone with his “niece” Roberta; Mr and Mrs Croft have a fat daughter, Erica; the Dong; Mr and Mrs Boore suit their name; and, Admiral Robert Shaftoe. Wendell Klopotnik has written a novel.

St. Cerebellums is…
…a nuthouse, er, I mean, the premier secure hospital for the criminally insane in Reading and is owned by QuangTech. Dr Alan Mandible is in charge. Dr Quatt used to be associated with the hospital. Some of the killers imprisoned there include the Gingerbreadman (gives off whiffs of ginger); Peter the Eater; Sasha the Slasher; Mr. Browner the Serial Drowner; Maximilian “Mad Max Marx, the Masked Manxman Axman” Marx; Deirdre Blott (she tried to one-up Max with “Nutty Nora Newsome, the Knife Wielding Weird Widow from Waddersdon”); and, Martin Gooch, a frustrated film producer.

Dr. Maxilla has a clinic in Kobe, Japan; Professor Frank Strait heads up a specialist hospital in Ohio; Dr. Vômer is a French delegate; Professor Palatine is the head of the Jordanian mental institute; and, Dr. Lacrimal is a German delegate.

A neighborhood in West Reading, a.k.a.,
“Cautionary Valley”, is eerily known for children who behave. Conrad Hoffman, seventeen, is being prepped as bait. Roland Snork’s face froze.

Berkshire, England is…
…a county where all talking animals have a safe haven since the 1962 Animal Equality Bill was passed. Dismissing the bucolic nature of the countryside, the bears banded together and built Robert Southey Tower, a luxury apartment building.

Tarquin Majors is a drug dealing bear. Well, okay, it’s porridge, but really, it’s the same thing. Algy is a wanna-be buyer. “Flake” is a Class III foodstuff; it’s claimed that rationed use does no harm. “Doughballs”, “buzz”, and “sweet” are still on the rigorously controlled Class II list. “Chunk”, “shred”, or “peel” are on the Class I list and considered most dangerous. Guy Gorilla is the owner of Three Monkeys Trading. Investigator Vincent “Vinnie” Craps is undercover for the League of Ursidae and is licensed by NS4.

Andersen’s Wood, a…
…6,000-acre tract of forest, played a part in The Big Over Easy. Edward and Ursula Bruin live there with their adopted son, Nigel.

QuangTech is…
…a huge multibillion-dollar corporation headed up by the reclusive James Quangle-Wangle. But they’re not as big as The Goliath Corporation. Quangle-Wangle’s expensive pet project is SommeWorld, a theme park intended to scare you off war with Stuart Haig in charge. Horace Bisky-Batt is the Quangle-Wangle’s second-in-command.

Former PDR partners with Quangle-Wangle in starting up QuangTech include Attery-Squash, The Dong with the Luminous Nose, Mr and Mrs Canary, Blue Baboon, George Fimble-Fowl, Roderick Pobble, the Orient Calf from the Land of Tute, and the SOB.

NS4 is…
…the most secret of the secret organizations — National Security. Nick Demetrios is its director-general. Agent Danvers is partnered with Agent Lunk. Both are jerks.

Obscurity is…
…a village that never makes it on to any map with a vicar who is anxious for someone to eat his wife’s scones. Stanley Cripps, a resident, is one of the top cucumbering competitors on an international level.

Other cucumber growers included Howard Katzenberg, a retired mathematician, and Simon Prong who both died in explosions. Professor Angus McGuffin, a physicist, is dead, supposedly. Hardy Fuchsia is Cripps’ archrival and the editor, proprietor, publisher, and founder of Cucumber World; he lives in Sonning. Dr Parks is a pseudoscientist. The Men in Green are terrorists.

Henrietta “Goldy” Hatchett is an investigative journalist for The Toad, and Josh Hatchett, one of NCD’s biggest critics, is her journalist brother. Hector Sleaze is with The Mole. Jeremy Bearre is with the Ursine Chronicle. Other newspapers in Reading include the Reading Daily Eyestrain and The Owl.

Mr Curry was a dinner companion for Goldy. Rupert and Winston are Goldy’s neighbors. The gay and Right Honorable Sherman Bartholomew is a free-thinking, radical MP and had been the defense attorney for the Gingerbreadman, who has been misleading the public. Douglas is his life partner.

The Great Long Red-Legg’d Scissor-man incentivized “Cautionary Valley”. PDRs are Persons of Dubious Reality who have fallen through from the written to the real. Rumplestiltskin is serving ten years.

The Most Worshipful Guild of Detectives is no longer interested in Spratt as a member. The cowardly DCI Friedland Chymes has retired from the force but is still head of the Guild. He and Wilmot Snaarb helped capture the Gingerbreadman. Rambosians adore watching earth television and filing and speak binary.

The Cover and Title

The cover appears to be a woodcut with a green background of Andersen’s Wood and a wee white cottage nestled up against the trees. In the forefront is the back of a really big bear in all his fur. The author’s name is three-dimensional in white at the top while the title stands out in a three-dimensional pale yellow with the brown fur as a background. Just above the title, some chickenscratch informs us that “Jack Spratt Investigates” while a round badge in yellow and blue at the bottom right announces the series name.

The title is quite sinister, for it’s all about The Fourth Bear.

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