cover image The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime

The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime

Jasper Fforde, . . Viking, $24.95 (378pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03772-8

Like The Big Over Easy (2005), Fforde's first Nursery Crime novel, this sequel offers literary allusions, confusions and gentle satire, though, again like its predecessor, it lacks the snap of the author's Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair , etc.). Jack Spratt, DCI of the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Police Department, is also a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), as are most of the characters Jack deals with, including the Gingerbreadman, a notorious killer, and Punch and Judy, a violence prone couple who are also marriage counselors. An alien policeman named Ashley, talking bears, a devoted group of cucumber-growing enthusiasts and an immensely powerful company, Quang Tech, add spice. All are grist for Fforde, whose word play runs the gamut from puns to shaggy dog stories. The Gingerbreadman's on the loose, Goldilocks is missing and Jack's once again persona non grata at headquarters. As Jack and his associates "bring justice to the nursery world," they also cast a Swiftian eye on corporate hubris, race relations, the drug trade and myriad other targets. (Aug.)