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The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime (Jack Spratt Investigates) Paperback – July 31, 2007
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A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Jasper Fforde is able to write diabolically. . . . Outrageous satirical agility is his stock in trade. (The New York Times)
Like the creators of . . . The Simpsons and South Park, Mr. Fforde uses fantasy to dissect real life. . . . He is our best thinking personÆs genre writer. (The Washington Times)
Mr. Fforde manages to bombard the reader with more bizarre detail than most writers would dare to fit in their entire oeuvre, yet he does so with . . . light prose and easy, confident wit. (The Wall Street Journal)
About the Author
Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling "Thursday Next" series. He is also the author of the "Nursery Crime" series.
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Solving the murder of Humpty Dumpty made Jack Spratt famous, but, as the new book opens, he has fallen somewhat, thanks to a couple of botched operations, most notably his failure in the Red Riding Hood case, which left both Red and her grandmother catatonic. He is told to attend a psychiatric evaluation, which he fervently would rather avoid, even as a young reporter with golden hair turns up dead at a Battle of the Somme theme park ("Somme World", which is designed to mortify anyone who goes there), hours after she was discovered naked in bed at the Bruin household. Who killed Goldilocks, and why? Included here are, among other amusing details, the reasons why the story of the smallest bowl being 'just right' doesn't hold water, and what that indicates.
Fforde is not content to hit the same notes that made "The Big Over Easy" so entertaining, which some may see as a negative, depending on what you think about what he chooses to replace it with. The first novel made a great deal of the fictional unverse's obsession with 'true crime' stories, and the effect this had on police procedure, but this angle is more or less absent from "The Fourth Bear". There is no sense that the characters are spending their time trying to be more dramatic; Briggs, Jack's police captain, has seemingly gone from a self-aware parody of the trope where police captains are always suspending their officers to merely another example of that trope played straight (albeit with every referring to "Plot Device Number _" in reference to various strategies and situations they find themselves in). Playing the story a bit more straight adds a bit more straight-up drama to the story, though Fforde has not toned down his trademark irreverence one bit.
This approach also allows for some real exploration of the characters in a non-satirical context, and both Jack and Mary get a lot of good development here. Jack's concerns one of the intriguing new angles Fforde introduces here: a more thorough explanation of the existence of 'fictional' characters in the 'real' world, and how they differ from normal humans. Jack is a 'PDR' (Person of Dubious Reality), but seems to be fairly well-adjusted, while he is able to call out his psychiatrist on being a threadbare plot device who has no backstory or memories otuside what the author has supplied her with (which is emotionally devastating).
Fforde casts his net quite wide in terms of source material, reeling in not just Southey's characters but far more obscure ones such as Mr and Mrs. Punch (British puppets who I suspect non-Brits such as myself will find rather mystifying); and the entire mystery revolves around various figures from Edward Lear's "The Quangle Wangle's Hat", which I had never heard of before, but numerous important plot details are drawn from it (one might consider reading that poem before reading this).
All in all, another winner from Fforde.