The Fourth Bear

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 7, 2008

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Seven people attended this discussion at the North Village Library. Our topic was The Fourth Bear, second in Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary. In this book, our protagonists investigate the murder of Goldilocks and try to capture an escaped mass murderer, the Gingerbread Man. We had all read Jasper Fforde before, and all of us started and finished The Fourth Bear.

One reader commented that he simply loved this book. He had read several of Fforde’s other books, and this was his clear favorite. He liked Fforde’s smooth writing. Spratt’s numbered plot devices were amusing (e.g. #26: Looking for Dr. McGuffin). He felt the silliness was over-the-top but worked. He thought the book worked extraterrestrial aliens well into the story, and loved how the aliens kept dropping references to 2001, Blade Runner, Star Wars, and other classic sf films. He felt that Mary Mary’s date with an alien coworker was the highlight of the book. Spratt and his wife consulting Punch and Judy as marriage counselors was a treat.

Others enjoyed the book. Many commented that this book’s mystery was better constructed than that of Farthing, the previous book we read. One fan of orange marmalade was amused that it’s a controlled substance for bears in this book. Several of us enjoyed the jokes about bad British cars. We were amused by the damage-free cars sold by Dorian Gray, all of which contained portraits of badly damaged cars in their trunks. As one reader put it, “Jasper Fforde writes silly things that I like.”

Many of us felt that this book is superior to the earlier installment, The Big Over Easy, which was written years early. We felt Fforde’s writing had improved, and the story simply hangs together better.

We appreciate how Fforde works just as hard for plot points as he does for gags. And it was especially satisfying when continuing jokes (e.g. Is a gingerbread man a cookie or a cake?) have multilayered plot payoffs late in the story.

For a book filled with so many fantastic elements, the depth of characterization was nice. Spratt, Mary, and the rest of the characters all have well-developed personalities. We appreciated the sensitive yet postmodern way that Jack Spratt came out to his wife that he was a “person of dubious reality.”

We spent the hour recounting favorite bits from this book, other Fforde books, Fforde’s website, and encounters with the author at his delightful signings. It’s clear that Jasper Fforde has a great deal of affection for his readers, and we have similar affection for him and his work. After the meeting, we had a nice dinner at Threadgill’s.

— A. T. Campbell, III