Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crimes series continues with “The Fourth Bear”, another classic whodunnit. With Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt on enforced sick leave and excluded from the hunt for The Gingerbread Man, a psychopathic, sadistic, murdering biscuit, recently escaped from the top security hospital for the criminally insane, he unofficially becomes involved in the hunt for the missing journalist, Henrietta ‘Goldilocks’ Hatchett. Largest cucumber growing competitors, a rising star MP, a missing nuclear scientist and the Three Bears all feature in this crime caper leading Jack and his under-funded department to solve the mystery in their usual unorthodox manner, necessary when living in Reading, where a high concentration of nursery rhyme characters, other PDRs (persons of dubious reality) and anthropomorphic animals have found a safe haven.
If all this sounds bizarre and absurd, that’s because it is. Jasper Fforde has a flair for writing completely believable yet utterly surreal novels which are brilliantly funny and totally compelling. The world of the Nursery Crimes Division of the Reading Police Department is so well written and developed that it feels as though it should be real, and the attention to detail makes his novels seem like real life crime thrillers. There are also occasional crossovers into the other series of crime stories Jasper writes, the Thursday Next series based in SpecOps LiteraTec division of the Swindon police force who handle literary crimes, and in “The Fourth Bear” we meet a slightly sinister car salesman called Dorian Gray.
These books are intelligent, funny, clever and above all, cracking good reads, and I think “The Fourth Bear” is probably the best so far. There are multiple plot lines threaded throughout the story which are beautifully entwined to a fantastic conclusion, with a few twists and turns you just aren’t expecting, which is nothing less than you would expect from a mystery book. A real page turner and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jasper Fforde has become a must read author for me, and I look forward to each new book with excited anticipation.