Run, run as fast you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Only in this case, the Gingerbread man is a two meter tall psychopathic murderer who enjoys pulling his victims arms off…and that’s just one plot element in Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear.

And yet there’s a way in which for much of the time that I was reading, I didn’t love The Fourth Bear as much as I hoped to, partly because it didn’t feel as wildly imaginative as some of Fforde’s other work. Even as I say this, I can see the absurdity of criticizing a book for being too grounded in reality when its plot includes adulterous bears, contraband porridge, a semi-transparent alien police officer and extreme cucumber growing. Still, the dynamics of the Nursery Crime world, where nursery characters live alongside of normal people, are not colored in as much as the Thursday Next series of Shades of Grey, so I found that a bit disappointing.

Of course, The Fourth Bear is a sequel to a book I haven’t read, so maybe more was explored in The Big Over Easy. Jasper Fforde is one of my favorites non graphic novel authors, so it may seem strange that I’ve chosen as his first work of his to comment on to be the second book in a spin-off of hos popular Thursday Next series, but the truth is its just the first book I’ve read since I started this blog.

The novel is the story of police detective Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division investigating the mysterious death of a woman who may or may not be the original Goldilocks. Like many of Fforde’s protagonists, Spratt must deal with a mounting series of challenges and obstacles that build up throughout the book until we come to a fairly rapid series of resolutions at the end. In this case, those challenges include the central mystery, issues with family, challenges with neighbors, the bad press his division has received since failing to prevent the Big Bad Wolf from swallowing Red Riding Hood, the car of Dorian Gray, and of course the aforementioned Gingerbread Man. All of these elements are tied together in a fairly routine feeling police investigation story which helps keep the whole thing grounded, my earlier comments notwithstanding.

In the end, I definitely enjoyed The Fourth Bear because the plot and the mystery do come together well in the end, and there are a number of interesting ideas on offer (including an explanation for the age-old question of how the three bears’ porridge could be at some disparate temperatures when they were all poured at the same time).  I just didn’t find it as thought provoking as Shades of Grey, or as satisfying as the Thursday Next novels.

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