If you have not yet entered into the worlds as seen through the eyes of Jasper Fforde, then you are truly missing out on something remarkable. He does not see the world the way others see it. Underneath the norm he finds the absurd, and the normal seems abnormal while the odd seems commonplace and natural. Somehow it always seems to work. In THE FOURTH BEAR, Fforde once again returns to his version of Reading, UK, and opens up another laugh-out-loud tale of mystery, murder and literature.
The hero returns. Jack Spratt is riding high off his success in the Humpty Dumpty case (from THE BIG OVER EASY), and together with Mary Mary they continue to do work for the Reading Police Department's Nursery Crime Division. He's starting to take some shots from reporters after a mix-up in the Red Riding Hood case. There's also an inquiry into using children as bait in capturing The Great Long Red-Legg'd Scissor-man. Just as it seems he's doomed, along comes the case to end all cases.
Evil, savage and murderous on a scale never before seen, the Gingerbreadman has escaped from St. Cerebellum's Hospital where he was serving a 400-year sentence. Bodies sans arms lie in his wake.
Jack sees the opportunity to get back in good graces with the media. The only problem is that he has just been notified that he is demoted to Missing Persons. Feeling the kiss of death on his career, Jack and Mary Mary find some interest in a missing journalist, who was last seen alive by The Three Bears.
All of this explodes into action and mayhem as Jack and Mary Mary seek to answer the tough investigative questions: Why do Mr. and Mrs. Bear have separate beds? Why is there so marked a temperature difference in the three porridge bowls? And who is the previously unheard of Fourth Bear and what has he to do with the Gingerbreadman? And if that weren't enough, Jack is also due for a psychological exam to determine if he is sane enough to continue running the Nursery Crime Division.
As with all of his work, Fforde has a great sense of intensity and mystery but also a finely crafted ability to inject just enough humor and absurdity to keep you genuinely hooked. His works prior to this have all been rapid page-turners, and THE FOURTH BEAR is no exception. Where else can you meet such a cavalcade of characters lumped together, not to mention also having Dorian Grey as a used car salesman and Punch and Judy as your rowdy next door neighbors? And let's not even get started on the aliens.
Fforde present his stories with great charm and wit, and though THE FOURTH BEAR takes place within the realm of children's Nursery Rhymes, they are perfectly defined and never go overboard into becoming unbelievable. His wordplay and his knowledge of literature in general are a true gift. One he has chosen to share.
You would be remiss if you passed it up.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on July 31, 2007