Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

the fourth bear
jasper fforde
c. 2006
378 pages
completed 3/23/2011

read for: global challenge, tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness.

Though they received recognition and praise for their work in the Humpty Dumpty murder, things are not going so well for Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, his partner Sergeant Mary Mary, and the rest of the gang at the Nursery Crimes Division. After some bad publicity for using children as live bait in an investigation, the NCD is overlooked when the Gingerbread Man, a psychopathic murderer, escapes from an institution for the criminally insane, and the case is handed over to another department, despite Jack being the arresting officer when the Gingerbread Man was first incarcerated. With no new cases thrown their way, the NCD begin investigating a missing persons case brought to them by an antagonistic reporter. His sister Goldilocks, an investigating journalist, has gone missing. Though at first they seem to be looking into some illegal porridge distribution, Jack can't seem to keep out of the Gingerbread Man's way and it's becoming more and more clear that the two cases have some kind of connection. If only Jack and Mary were allowed to investigate...

I've now read both books in the series and am eagerly awaiting the next one. I really enjoy all the random nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters (especially when they're just a name-drop that could really be easily missed such as the shout out to Bobby Shafto) and the world Jasper Fforde has created. It's not quite as awesome as Sondheim's Into the Woods, an incredible Broadway musical which explores what happens after "happily ever after," but it's close.

While reading, I did think at times there was a little too much going on without quite enough explanation. I remember thinking this during the first book too. I don't mean within the mystery, that I could follow pretty well, but just in the world itself. The politics regarding the social status of PDRs (Persons of Dubious Reality) and anthropomorphic bears could get a little confusing. Maybe some people would find the immense complexities Fforde is able to create an asset, but for me it detracted somewhat, however that could be just my own shortcoming.

Like the first of the series, I really enjoy the characters. Jack and Mary work so well together. And even the smaller characters are well fleshed out, especially those with folkloric backgrounds. It was exciting to see the way the famous foibles and characteristics manifested themselves, and to get explanations for plot holes in the original sources material (such as the disparate temperatures of the three bears' porridge). Though they initially really annoyed me, I ended up especially enjoying the inclusion if Punch and Judy. I really appreciate Fforde's inclusion of more obscure folklore references. I would have liked a little more time spent with Prometheus and Pandora, since there's obviously a history there. I'm interested to see where that will go. Maybe in the next one.

One last thing I just want to mention, and this is the only thing about the books that really annoys me. I don't like the little excerpts at the beginning of each chapter. They're like clippings from magazines and newspapers and history books (fictitious ones from the Nursery Crimes world) and for me, they add nothing. In fact, after the first few chapters, I just ignored them entirely.


1 comment:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have not read anything by this author. Thanks for sharing you thoughts.