I’m not sure whether it’s the book, or whether I was just in the perfect mood for it, but regardless, the result is the same. The Fourth Bear is my favorite of the seven Jasper Fforde novels I’ve read. The first five Thursday Next Novels are fun but can be a bit overwhelming, and sometimes downright confusing, and the first Nursery Crime book, The Big Over Easy, does a little bit too much work setting up the Nursery Crime world to really enjoy its premise. But everything is very clear and delightfully tongue in cheek in The Fourth Bear, which is a rather silly take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, involving stolen cucumbers, exploding greenhouses, and investigative journalism.
Nursery Crime Division detectives Jack Spratt and his partner Mary Mary are once again back, alongside their co-worker Ashley, who is wee little blue alien man with a rather large crush on Mary. As the police in charge of investigating all incidents involving fictional characters (who live in the world alongside non-fictional people like ourselves). Their investigation into the murder of Goldilocks involves lots of other terribly silly but still rather clever things, like the giant Gingerbreadman, the most fearsome serial killer who ever lived, who has escaped and is terrorizing the population of Reading, a subplot about bear porridge smuggling (because porridge is a regulated substance for bears–it’s basically like heroin for them), and a whole thing with Jack buying a new car from Dorian Gray. Yes, that Dorian Gray.
All in all, it’s a pretty great spoof of noir mysteries and thrillers, but you don’t need to all that familiar with those genres in order to have fun with this book. I finished it and immediately wished that the long-awaited third book was already available. Apparently Fforde has been promising the tentatively titled The Last Great Tortoise Race for years. Jasper, we need this book. We don’t need another Thursday Next book quite yet. There are already seven of them, with another on the way. We NEED the third Nursery Crime book. We need it like your bears need their porridge.
I can’t help feeling like he brought this on himself, though. Witness Jack’s rumination on speaking with a Nursery character who knows she’s underwritten:
“Jack felt sorry for her. It can’t be easy to have your life summed up in a few perfunctory descriptive terms, the sole meaning of your existence just a few lines in the incalculable vastness of fiction. Still, this was his career in the balance. If he didn’t deal with her, the Jack Spratt series was likely to stop abruptly at the second volume. No third book and definitely no box set.”
Bet he forgot to knock on some wood after he was done being all meta and clever. Cheeky bastard.