Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear is the sequel to The Big Over Easy (although it's only a loose sequel - it's possible to read The Fourth Bear without having read The Big Over Easy).

The Big Over Easy was the first of Fforde's Nursery Crime Division (NCD) tales and saw minor baronet Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III being discovered dead - and in pieces - beneath a wall in a less salubrious area of Reading (England). The perpetrator appears to be Dumpty's ex-wife, but she has shot herself. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his colleague Mary Mary are assigned to the case, and soon find themselves knee-deep in bullion smuggling, money-laundering and major problems with beanstalks.

In The Fourth Bear a reporter is found dead and in a lot of pieces. You might not imagine this to be a case that would come under the jurisdiction of the NCD, except that the nickname of the dead reporter is Goldilocks. Jack Spratt follows the trail to the cottage of the three bears, where he immediately realises that Goldilocks' fate was sealed from the moment she ate a bowl of porridge in their cottage. To add to Jack's stress, Mr and Mrs Punch and Judy have moved in next door, a giant psychotic Gingerbreadman is rampaging around Reading, after escaping from St Cerebellum's, the secure mental hospital/prison where he's been locked away since Jack captured him 20 years earlier, and Jack's boss, Briggs, is convinced Jack's too insane to work for the NCD, where weird stuff happens on a daily basis.

I have to say, this book disappointed me. Fforde's books have become far too knowing and self-aware with comments from the characters about the author, and discussions about which plot device to use next. This ought to be funny, but it isn't, at least not to me. It just seems lame and over-used.

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If you've noticed the lack of book reviews lately and wondering if I've been cutting back on my reading, the answer is "No" - but I'm still reading Charles Butler's Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper - and since it's a hefty paperback that I don't want to take to work (because it's heavy and it's not my book !), I'm reading some each evening, which is cutting into my novel-reading time. It's a good book - very well written, and I can promise you a favourable review once I've finished it.

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