The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 382 pages, 2006

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: Bet you can’t read just one.

Synopsis: Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, along with the other members of the Nursery Crime Division, is hot on the trail of a fresh crime, this time involving a missing journalist nicknamed ‘Goldy,’ some bears, and – just in case you thought you knew where this was going – cucumbers and the escaped mental patient, the Gingerbreadman. It turns out the real mystery began when Goldy left the house of the three bears and wandered into a minefield of trouble…

Why you should read this book: As if Fforde hasn’t given us enough with the mystery and an entire world filled with smart-alecky nursery rhyme characters, each chapter begins with an excerpt from the fictional book, The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records (2004 edition), giving general background to accustom the reader to this strange new world or slipping in a goodie that couldn’t find a slot within the actual novel. As always, expect wacky humour and numerous references to nursery rhymes and fairy tales (usually gone horribly awry), along with some unexpected dating and the sort of marital problems that most people just wouldn’t have. Nursery rhymes are simple things, and by looking outside of them, at what happens around the pages of the books we’re all so familiar with, Fforde keeps us racing through the wonderful world he’s created.

Why you should avoid this book: Sometimes Fforde is lacking in explanations of just how the nursery rhyme world works (why would there be numerous Goldielocks, for example? Wouldn’t the residents be confused by bumping into all of these people with the same names?), perhaps to leave himself more wiggle room for future books, but sometimes a commitment about such tidbits is good from an author, especially in an already fictitious world.

Opening paragraph:

The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Passed over for inclusion into almost every publication from The Doomsday Book to Thirty Places Not Worth Visiting in Berkshire, the hamlet is also a cartographic omission, an honor it shares with the neighboring villages of Hiding and Cognito. Indeed, the status of Obscurity was once thought so tenuous that some of the more philosophically inclined residents considered the possibility that since the village didn’t exist, they might not exist either, and hurriedly placed ‘existential question of being’ on the parish council agenda, where it still resides, after much unresolved discussion, between ‘church roof fund’ and ‘any other business.’

Fabulous quotes:

He explained the news to Mary, who said, ‘How about if we do a plot device number twenty-six and pretend not to look for him?’
‘So you’re suggesting we look for him against orders, catch him, cover ourselves with glory, and the by-the-book officers look like idiots?’
Mary nodded enthusiastically. ‘Pretty much.’
‘No, we’re going to follow plot device number thirty-eight.’
Mary narrowed her eyes. ‘Which one is that again?’
‘We wait until they beg for our assistance, then save the day. For now we follow orders. After all, do you think we’d get the support Copperfield is getting if it was an NCD inquiry?’

‘Bears?’ echoed Jack. ‘I never mentioned anything about bears.’
‘I think you’ll find that Goldilocks and bears are inextricably linked, Inspector. It was bears that brought us together, in July of last year. Since all anthropomorphized animals in Reading are my constituents, I have a duty to promote their self-interests in Parliament – I met Goldilocks when she came to my office to press for a law to allow lethal ursine self-defense.’
‘The “right to arm bears” controversy?’

Also recommended: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams; Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes.

Also by this author: The Eyre Affair; Lost in a Good Book; The Well of Lost Plots; Something Rotten; First Among Sequels; The Big Over Easy.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Check for even more ‘Special Features’ at – but make sure you have the codeword from the book. There are also features included from the Thursday Next novel Something Rotten, in case you need some extra motivation.

Would I read more by this author? As soon as the next one is out, I’m there.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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