The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde (10 March — 13 March)

I can’t help it. I love Jasper Fforde and his novels. And now I have to wait several months until his next book comes out! Oh no!

The Fourth Bear is the second in Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, in which nursery rhyme characters are real(-ish) and subject to actual laws. Our main participants this time are Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Gingerbreadman, who has escaped from jail and is again on a murderous rampage. DCI Jack Spratt and his sergeant Mary Mary are not on the case, as they’ve been sidelined after letting Red Riding Hood and her grandmother get eaten by the wolf. Oops.

Instead, they’re on the hunt for the missing Goldilocks, a journalist with an eye lately for cucumber news who was last seen in a baby bear’s bed. The trail leads, well, everywhere. Giant multinational corporation (no, not Goliath), porridge smuggling, explosions, closet-heterosexual member of Parliament, Agent Danvers (Danvers!)… it’s all there, and mostly makes sense. Oh, also, Jack buys a car from Dorian Gray. That’s smart.

I liked the story, here, but it was a little back-loaded answers-wise. Things just keep spiralling out of control until all of a sudden, poof! The answer! Convenient! But the writing is fun enough that I will forgive it. A quote I put up on Twitter when I started out: “He was seven foot three, and she was six foot two. It was a match made perhaps not in heaven but certainly nearer the ceiling.” Strangely, that’s 140 characters exactly.

One other thing I didn’t like about the story is that there’s a point where everything is going wrong and it’s looking bad for Jack and then he’s like, “But wait! This is just a plot contrivance! I will convince those involved in this situation to just, ah, ignore it, and then I can go back to detecting!” I get that in this weird Fforde universe, the characters know they’re in a book. But generally, they’re meant not to let everyone else know that, so this is just lazy. Ah well.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Wales)

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde (29 January — 30 January)

Oh, Jasper Fforde, you’ve done it again! This is the first book of Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, which first shows up in The Well of Lost Plots and exists in tandem with the Thursday Next universe.

The conceit here is that nursery rhyme characters are real but don’t know they’re from nursery rhymes, and that they now get prosecuted for their crimes (they are, of course, Brothers Grimm versions).

So when Humpty Dumpty is found dead and cracked at the bottom of a wall, it’s up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary to find out whodunnit and why. Was it suicide? Was it one of Humpty’s hundreds of ex-lovers? Was it, perhaps, Solomon Grundy (born on Monday), who is poised to absorb the failing Spongg footcare dynasty into his own chiropody company, Winsum & Loosum?

Of course, the unpublished Spratt is having a hard time with his case because he’s not a Guild member. His cheating upstart former partner, Friedland Chymes, is, and he’s ready to steal this case any way he can to get a new story in Amazing Crime Stories and have even more accolades heaped upon him.

Oh yes. It is that ridiculous, and that awesome. Each chapter begins with an excerpt about other nursery crimes or the Guild of Detectives, and there are so many references to nursery rhymes that it could be a bit overwhelming, but it’s not. I also like that Fforde has trotted out all of the mystery genre traits (I did take a course on mysteries, after all!) and used them well. If you don’t mind a bit of fancy with your murder mystery, I would heartily suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)