Monday, October 29, 2007

'The Fourth Bear' by Jasper Fforde

29 October 2007

Having been charmed by 'The Big Over Easy' (reviewed here in April 2007), I had been eagerly awaiting the return of DCI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary in Jasper Fforde's second Nursery Crime Division novel, 'The Fourth Bear'. I wasn't disappointed. Goldilocks is missing, bears are buying and selling illegal porridge and Punch and Judy are turning out to be the neighbours from Hell. 'The Fourth Bear' is another mixing bowl of remarkably silly parodies which works because it has at its heart a solid and intriguing whodunnit. Slightly more focussed and less rambling than its predecessor it still manages to incorporate aliens, ancient Greek immortals and characters from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Edward Lear. Fforde manages to make the most two dimensional characters both believable and sympathetic. There is a touching sub-plot about the stigma associated with being a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality) - though the closer you look the more it seems that everyone in this book is a PDR. This leads to some surreal metatextual moments (particularly Jack's psychiatric interview by Virginia Kreeper) with lots of characters clearly in search of an author. And 'The Fourth Bear' is extremely funny with some lovingly crafted and truly awful puns. The ten pages of Chapter Four serve purely to lead to a groan-inducing pun. A minor character is introduced on page 63 in order to lay the ground for a series of appalling puns on page 319. All great fun - and when you've finished, the book comes complete with 'DVD extras' - a 'making-of' documentary, deleted scenes etc which you can access through Fforde's website, but only by answering a question which requires you to have finished reading the novel. I'm very much looking forward to 'The Last Great Tortoise Race' which will be the next outing for the Nursery Crime Division.



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