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|The Sydney Morning Herald
|The Fourth Bear|
|Review by Nicola Robinson.|
The Fourth Bear By Jasper Fforde
Whodunit's sustained foolishness makes for cutting social and political satire.
The gingerbreadman loomed over him. He was 210 centimetres tall, broad at the shoulder and massively powerful, despite being less than 10cm thick. His large glace cherry eyes burned with unhinged intellect and his liquorice mouth curled into a cruel smile.
Was evil ever so menacing - and mouth-watering? The world's largest biscuit is the baddest of the bad in Jasper Fforde's new crime novel, The Fourth Bear. Fforde is a shooting star, gathering bemused and enchanted fans with each publication. His first foray into the absurd, the Thursday Next series, involved frenzied time travel and crime-solving leaps into the great and not-so-great literature of the English language. The Nursery Crime adventures are equally and delightfully preposterous.
The Fourth Bear opens with DCI Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division, in big trouble. Not only has he been reprimanded for using thumb-sucking children as bait to catch the Great Long Red-legg'd Scissorman, but his superiors suspect he is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after being swallowed whole by the Big Bad Wolf. Jack grumbles:
"I'm NCD. I can handle this kind of surreal weirdness. Okay, so we screwed up a bit and a few people got swallowed. I mean it's not as though they're dead, right?"
But no one is convinced and when the psychopathic Gingerbreadman escapes the hospital for the criminally insane, the task of catching him is given not to Jack, but to the hapless DI David Copperfield. Jack's sanity falls further into question when he insists that his newly acquired car - bought from the used-car salesman from hell, Dorian Gray - is self-repairing.
Like a good detective, he ignores orders to rest and with faithful sidekick DS Mary Mary looks into the disappearance of journalist Henny Hatchett, also known as Goldilocks. The discovery that she ran from the three bears' house into the postmodern insanity of the SommeWorld theme park raises many questions. The least of these is perhaps why Mama Bear and Papa Bear don't share a bed; the greatest, whether a major corporation is involved in the development of weapons of mass destruction.
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: a critique of crime caused by the policing of banned or restricted substances (in this case, porridge, honey, marmalade and buns); a self-proclaimed gay politician desperate to hide a heterosexual affair from his liberal electorate; a sharp kick at conspiracy theorists (and of course, this being Fforde, those who doubt them); and plenty of swipes at the humdrum obscenities of modern life. DCI Spratt flicks through Goldilocks's mail, noting "several not-to-be-missed direct-mail offers, which seemed almost nostalgically warming compared to the barrage of spam emails that [he] received every day".
It's a case of either "Huh?" or "Haw haw haw". I'm with the latter, every time.
By Nicola Robinson To see the Sydney Morning Herald website click HERE
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