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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Fourth Bear

Jasper Fforde

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To purchase The Fourth Bear

Title: The Fourth Bear
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 378 pages
Availability: The Fourth Bear - US
The Fourth Bear - UK
The Fourth Bear - Canada
  • A Nursery Crime

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 12/7/2006 Christina Hardyment
The LA Times . 28/8/2006 Michael Harris
Sydney Morning Herald . 29/8/2006 Nicola Robinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fforde is more than a mad infant rampaging in literature's best-loved toyshop. The Fourth Bear is both a shrewd satire on modern times (a theme park called SommeWorld, an MP desperate to hush up his affair in order to save his vote-winning gay credentials) and an immaculately plotted police procedural -- give or take a few irresistible digressions into farce.(...) What makes Fforde a star is not his ebullient cleverness, but the elusive sympathy factor. However ridiculous his themes seem, his characters have a compelling immediacy." - Christina Hardyment, The Independent

  • "The Fourth Bear turns out to be a surprisingly cool-eyed glance at the human condition disguised as a witty, typically British entertainment whose elaborately cantilevered plot even includes a McGuffin." - Michael Harris, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The Fourth Bear is a whodunit that undercuts its lunacy with a measure of dry police procedural work (mind you, much of that dull work is carried out by a small blue alien named Ashley). Also amid the sustained foolishness is cutting social and political satire" - Nicola Robinson, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Fourth Bear is the second 'Nursery Crime' novel by Jasper Fforde. DCI Jack Spratt generally does an admirable job with the tiny Nursery Crime Division, but after he uses children as bait in capturing the anti-thumb-sucking Scissor-man (as well as the lapses in the Riding-Hood case, which led to Spratt (among others) being swallowed whole ...)) Superintendent Briggs takes him off active duty until his mental fitness can be checked.
       Years earlier Spratt had caught the terrifying Gingerbreadman, who likes to rip apart his victims, and now that the giant cookie (or is it cake ?) has escaped Spratt knows he's the only one who can re-capture him. Instead, the investigation is handed over to by-the-book (and quite dim) DI Copperfield and Spratt is warned to stay away. Needless to say, he can't -- whether he wants to or not.
       With Spratt officially sidelined DS Mary Mary is left in charge of the Nursery Crime Division -- though aside from PC Ashley, a binary-spouting but endearing alien, that's pretty much all there is of the tiny division. Spratt can't completely abandon his duties, and the three of them follow up a variety of cases. There's the death of Miss Hatchett -- Goldilocks -- possibly accidental, but suspicious nonetheless. And what is it with all those growers of giant cucumbers who meet unfortunate ends ? And there's QuangTech and the Quangle-Wangle -- "They seem to be popping up a lot in this inquiry, and so far we don't know anything about them at all."
       The Berkshire area where the novel is set is also home to much of the bear population, both in the wild and in the Robert Southey estates. There's petty crime there -- porridge is a controlled substance, but bears want a fix beyond their meagre monthly allotments, making for lots of black market dealing -- but there's also the Goldilocks connexion.
       Meanwhile, besides proving his sanity (despite the fact that it's insanity that's needed to do Nursery Crime work), Spratt has some other problems. His wife finds out he's a Person of Dubious Reality (which, along with some other things, leads to increased marital discord), the very noisy Punch and Judy move in next door (though at least they're marriage counselors ...), and that car he bought from one Dorian Gray, while having some very appealing features, is also slightly worrying. Meanwhile, alien Ashley asks Mary out for a date -- despite being utterly baffled by human procreation.
       There are quite a few threads here, but Fforde weaves them together quite well. (Needless to say, everything winds up being connected.) As in all of Fforde's books, there's prodigious invention on display, a clever mix of fairy tale worlds and reality that he pulls off very well here. He also has a very good writing-touch -- with some subtler jokes to go along with the usual over-the-top punning. Between almost dry police procedural and utter absurdity (the enormous Gingerbreadman, Mary flashing her breasts in the unlikeliest of places) Fforde manages to make it all almost convincing. And he doesn't try too hard with the absurdity, striking the right tone and note.
       If there's anything approaching disappointment it's in the final resolution and explanations (involving, among other things, the giant cucumbers, as well as the Gingerbreadman's Achilles' heel), but it hardly matters. The fun is in the trip -- and it's a very enjoyable trip.
       Very good entertainment, certainly recommended.

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The Fourth Bear: Reviews: Jasper Fforde: Other books by Jasper Fforde under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jasper Fforde was born in 1961.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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