The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime Series #2)

The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime Series #2)

by Jasper Fforde

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Return to the world of the Nursery Crime Division in this novel from the author of the Thursday Next series and Early Riser

The inimitable Jasper Fforde gives readers another delightful mash-up of detective fiction and nursery rhyme, returning to those mean streets where no character is innocent. The Gingerbreadman—sadist, psychopath, cookie—is on the loose in Reading, but that’s not who Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary are after. Instead, they’ve been demoted to searching for missing journalist “Goldy” Hatchett. The last witnesses to see her alive were the reclusive Three Bears, and right away Spratt senses something furry—uh, funny—about their story, starting with the porridge. The Fourth Bear is a delirious new romp from our most irrepressible fabulist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101158524
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/31/2007
Series: Nursery Crime Series , #2
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 142,271
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling "Thursday Next" series. He is also the author of the "Nursery Crime" series.


Brecon, Powys, Wales, United Kingdom

Date of Birth:

January 11, 1961

Place of Birth:

London, United Kingdom


Left school at 18

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Jasper Fforde is able to write diabolically. . . . Outrageous satirical agility is his stock in trade. (The New York Times)

Like the creators of . . . The Simpsons and South Park, Mr. Fforde uses fantasy to dissect real life. . . . He is our best thinking person's genre writer. (The Washington Times)

Mr. Fforde manages to bombard the reader with more bizarre detail than most writers would dare to fit in their entire oeuvre, yet he does so with . . . light prose and easy, confident wit. (The Wall Street Journal)

Reading Group Guide

A serial killer made of gingerbread, aliens who get tipsy on binary code transmissions, a used-car salesman named Dorian Gray with a pristine automobile and a deadly guarantee–it's all in a day's work for Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt; his contrarian partner, Mary Mary; and the ragtag crew of the Nursery Crime Division. This time, the world's most brutal serial-killer confection, the Gingerbreadman, has managed to escape St. Cerebellum's secure hospital for the criminally deranged. After twenty years of falsely peaceful incarceration, he's looking for revenge against Jack, the officer who barely escaped with his life during the Gingerbreadman's initial arrest. But numerous suspensions and public speculation about Jack's mental state have forced Superintendent Briggs to place Jack on medical leave, leaving the case in the incapable hands of the friendly but incompetent David Copperfield.

Meanwhile, the Nursery Crime Division's most vocal adversary, columnist Josh Hatchett of The Toad, declares a truce with Jack. His sister, Henrietta, a fussy journalist with blond ringlets who also goes by the nickname Goldilocks, has disappeared. She had been on the verge of uncovering a big story that would help further her pet "right to arm bears" cause. A breadcrumb trail of clues leads Jack from a house of three porridge- abusing bears to a small group of fringe scientists growing enormous vegetables and eventually to an unfinished theme park owned by the secretive QuangTech corporation, where he discovers Goldilocks's body parts.

But who had it in for her? Was it a fourth savage, porridge-mongering bear who ran away from the crime scene? Was she a victim of the competitive cucumberista farmers protecting the oversized fruits of their labor? Or was it an associate of her ambitious secret politician lover? Jack is clearly the only man who can solve this mystery. That's because nursery crimes aren't just his jurisdiction; they're a part of his life. Jack has known about his own Dubious Reality status since his first poetic marriage to a fat-eating wife–a fact he's never been able to admit to his beloved second wife, Madeleine.

After five years of trying to hide his true nature from Madeleine, and under pressure from his abusive PDR (Persons of Dubious Reality) neighbors Punch and Judy, Jack finally spills his secret to Madeleine, who feels betrayed and hurt by his duplicity. Dismissed by his boss, shunned by his wife, hunted by the murderous Gingerbreadman, and thwarted by the reclusive ursine community, Jack must unravel the mystery of the fourth bear before his own couplet comes to an untimely end.

Jasper Fforde plays with the literary figures in the canon the way children play with toy figurines, creating full-scale imaginary worlds from scraps of children's literature. But he doesn't just use the nursery crime pun for laughs–Fforde carves away the cute rhymes to reveal the dark heart at the center of Western culture's childhood tales. His whimsical, vividly imagined remixes of these well-known fairy tales would have made the brothers Grimm proud.



Jasper Fforde traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page. He lives and writes in Wales. The Eyre Affair was his first novel in the bestselling Thursday Next series. The Big Over Easy is the first in his new Nursery Crime series.


  • Fforde creates plot devices around plays on words: "thermocuclear" for nuclear cucumber bombs, Project Ginja Assassin, the right to arm bears, etc. What are some other examples of Fforde's wordplay?
  • Jack Spratt's Nursery Crime Division covers not only nursery rhymes but also fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and "juvenilia" (p. 8) cautionary tales. What other sources could "Persons of Dubious Reality" come from? What other literary forms could the NCD cover?
  • Fforde borrows several characters from literature: Prometheus, Caliban, and David Copperfield to name a few. How does Fforde use these literary figures to advance his story? What essential characteristics do the characters retain from the originals?
  • Jack Spratt reasons with his wife, Madeleine, that she couldn't possibly be a PDR because her last name is Usher, and " 'Usher' doesn't rhyme with much except 'gusher' and... 'flusher.' " What other rhyming names can you think of from nursery rhymes? What other characteristics do nursery rhyme protagonists have in common?
  • Jack says to his wife, "I am real... In a collective-consciousness, postmodern, zeitgeisty sort of way" (p. 185). What role do nursery rhymes play in our culture? What purpose do they serve? What accounts for their long-held prominence in children's culture? Do you consider them part of the oral tradition or the written tradition?
  • Politicians and bureaucratic offices have negative connotations in The Fourth Bear– Sherman Bartholomew turns out to be a straight man posing as a gay man to further his political platform, the NS-4 seems to be involved in shady dealings with unsanctioned self-governing bears, etc. What do you think Fforde is trying to say with his portrayal of government agents?
  • Out of all the nursery rhyme characters you are familiar with, which do you feel the most affinity for? How would you render your own life in a nursery rhyme?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime Series #2) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is my second Jasper Fforde novel, but it won't be my last. I loved the characters and Fforde's clever way of explaining nursery rhymes as crimes. I think I would have found it even funnier if I had recognized the allusions to the more obscure Nursery Rhymes. Guess I'm going to have to get a book of them. "The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, 2004 Edition" excerpts were delightfully hilarious. I'm waiting for the book to show up in the U.S....
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    So I always did wonder why Mama bear's porridge was colder than Baby bear's.... This was such a good piece of work and I'm hoping that we'll see the next Jack Spratt novel soon (almost to that boxed set!). If you're considering anything from Jasper Fforde, go for it! These are some of the best books I've read. I laugh out loud, am sad when the characters are going through rough situations and cheer when things are figured out. The Gingerbread Man made a great villian and I'm curious to who the next one will be!
    elbakerone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Introduced in The Big Over Easy, investigators Jack Spratt and Mary Mary of Reading's Nursery Crime Division return to action in The Fourth Bear, a highly amusing sequel from author Jasper Fforde. This time, the detectives are trying to track down a crazed serial killer known as The Gingerbreadman who insists that they can't catch him.Meanwhile, Harriet Hatchet - better known as Goldilocks - has disappeared after a strange encounter with three bears. That should come as no surprise to Spratt who is used to dealing with the odd coincidences of the Nursery Crime world, but he is baffled by the mystery of how three bowls of porridge poured at the same time could be turn out to be three different temperatures. Is it possible that there was a fourth bear?True to Fforde's style, silly puns and wordplay abound in this comedic mystery. Though perhaps not quite as good as the first in the series, fans of Over Easy will still want to check out this sequel.
    hoosgracie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    In the second outing for Detectives Jack Spratt (two Ts) and Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Division, the Ginger Bread Man has escaped, bears are getting into illegal porridge, and Jack's wife discovers he's a PDR (personage of dubious reality).Fun continuation of the mystery series. Fforde does a good job of interweaving classic nursery rhymes with crime fiction. While I like his Thursday Next series better, this is satisfying.
    yarmando on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    On page 318, Jack says, "It seems a very laborious setup for a pretty lame joke, doesn't it?" That could pretty much describe the whole series. But I love it. This fractured fairy tale world, with its acrobatic puns and meta-narrative witticisms are right up my alley.
    kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Fforde took the characters from his "Big Over Easy" novel and continues their stories. Nothing gets stale, there are still plenty of laughs, and lots of room for new characters. After reading BOE, I realized I needed to pull out my Mother Goose books to refresh my memory on some of the more obsure characters he mentions-like Solomon Grundy. With this book, a good understanding and appreciation of Grimm is more useful-but really, it's a hillarious book without that knowledge. A great read for anyone already in love with Fforde's writing-but don't hop into this one without reading BOE first. It's called a sequel for a reason.
    figa49 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Not quite as good ad the Thursday Next series. But still worth reading
    justine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Another very enjoyable romp through Fforde's Reading, England inhabited with nursery rhyme characters on both sides of the law.
    readafew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Jack Spratt is BACK! (with two t's). Jack and Mary are trying to recover the NCD from a bad episode with the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, when the Gingerbreadamn escapes from prison and starts a murderous rampage again. Jack is taken off duty for a psych eval and Mary Mary is put in charge of the NCD. Things get even more convoluted in this one than the last and quite a few self referential jokes. This was a great book and actually had me laughing out loud several different times. The humor is great. Don't be fooled by the Nursery Rhymes patina, these books really aren't for young kids. Enjoyable from cover to cover.
    BoundTogetherForGood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I don't like much fiction but I love this series! It is intelligent and pure fun! I liked this better than the first book in the series.
    ASBiskey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Big Over Easy, the first book in the Nursery Crimes series by Jasper Fforde, drew me into a exciting and different world, where characters from nursery stories live and die with everyone else. I was looking forward to a similar clever story in The Fourth Bear, the second book in the series.While I enjoyed the story and some of the subplots in this book, there seemed to be more unnecessary additions that seemed forced. The first third of the book seemed slow. Eventually, things did get rolling and it became a much more pleasant experience to tag along with Jack Spratt and the other members of the Nursery Crimes Division.I enjoyed this book, but it didn't seem to have the same sparkle as The Big Over Easy.
    BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Fourth Bear, the second Nursery Crime mystery, opens in Obscurity and begins with a giant cucumber and a tremendous explosion. The action picks up from there. Once again, DCI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary are on the case. And, once again, the case is much larger than it initially appears. The Gingerbread Man has escaped from the nuthouse, Goldilocks is brutally murdered, and somehow all these things are deliciously linked to one another.As in the previous book, the joy in this one comes again and again from the little throwaway references...what can I say, they just make me happy. Here's one: Spratt buys a used car from Dorian Gray, a questionable car dealer who cuts him a too-good-to-be-true deal. Can you guess what happens to the portrait that resides in the car's boot? Here's another: Punch and Judy move in next door to the Spratts and save their marriage. Read Jasper Fforde for a light, sly, jokey, and most of all fun experience.
    gerleliz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Another fun romp through Nurseryland
    mlake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I love this series! Fforde is funny and clever nad keeps you guessing. Jack Spratt and Mary Mary work in the Nursery Crimes Division of the police department. They solved the case of who murdered Humpty Dumpty in The Big Over Easy and they are back with more in this mystery.
    hklibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Yet again another fascinating book by the genius of Jasper Fforde. He is funny, smart, bizarre, and has an incredible mind. Can't wait for the next istallment (and yes that means his other series too--with Thursday Next).
    Kanikoski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I read this without reading the first in the series. It's an imaginative context with plenty of wit and puns ('the right to arm bears' being a particular favourite of mine) and some wonderfully original takes on nursery rhyme characters, but somehow it lacks a certain amount of bite. Using this book as a representative sample, the Nursery Crimes Division seems to occupy a similar area in its genre to, say, Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers series, but for me it does not deliver the same page-turner qualities. The gags keep on coming, but in a sort of scattergun fashion: some hit the mark but plenty miss the target or go completely astray. There are some nice moments, some quaint descriptions, and some suitably wild sequences of events. In the end, though, I found it to be a little less than satisfying. Maybe it just tries to do and be too much.
    alandavey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Really very good holiday reading. Funny. Witty. Barking.
    YossarianXeno on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I don't why, I just hated this. I always try to finish books, even ones I'm not particularly enjoying, but this one I couldn't bring myself to finish.
    cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Protagonist(s): DI Jack Spratt, DS Mary Mary and DC Ashley (an alien from Rambosia) of the Nursery Crime Division Setting: present-day Reading, England Series #2 First Line: The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. The Gingerbreadman - psychopath, sadist, convicted murderer and cake/biscuit - is loose on the streets of Reading. It isn't Jack Spratt's case. Despite the success of the Humpty Dumpty investigation, the well publicized failure to prevent Red Riding Hood and her grandmother from being eaten once again plunges the Nursery Crime Division into controversy. Enforced non-involvement with the Gingerbreadman hunt looks to be frustrating until a chance encounter at the oddly familiar Deja-Vu Club leads Jack and Mary Mary to the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta 'Goldy' Hatchett, star reporter for The Daily Toad. The last witnesses to see her alive were The Three Bears, living comfortably in Andersen's Wood. But all is not what it seems. Are the unexplained explosions around the globe somehow related to missing nuclear scientist Angus McGuffin? Is cucumber growing really that dangerous? Why is National Security involved? But most important of all: how could the bears' porridge be at such differing temperatures when they were poured at the same time? Typical Fforde silliness and an honest-to-goodness mystery as I tried to figure out just where he was going with everything. Several chuckles, countless grins and some outright guffaws as I read The Fourth Bear. My only real irritation with the book was that I thought it could've used some judicious pruning. Editor, editor...wherefore art thou, Editor?
    riverwillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Ever since I discovered 'The Eyre Affair'I have been a Jasper Fforde fan and this book does not disappoint. I haven't enjoyed a book so much for months.
    DubaiReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Definitely not my sort of humour.I love audiobooks and will often listen to different genres from my usual, just because I have the opportunity to have them narrated. This was the case with The Fourth Bear and I approached it enthusiastically. Unfortunately, I found the humour extreemly irritating and couldn't even complete the first CD of my unabridged version. Although I may sometimes listen to novels in an audiobook that I would normally have abandoned in hard copy (Wolf hall for ex), this completely defeated me. Punns and wordplay, nursery characters solving crimes committed by other nursery charcters, I really couldn't take any more.So, I'm sorry Mr Fforde, I guess your books are not for everyone and the book I currently have on my shelf will be finding a more receptive home.
    carmen29 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    What a crazy book! I loved it.
    hanque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This isn't Fford's latest, it was published in 2006, but it's my favorite of the ones I've read. This is another fairy tale squeezed almost out of recognition by subplots and outrageous liberties taken with the plot and characters. In it, Detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary investigate suspicious occurrences that include the mysterious deaths of heavy-weight cucumber growers, Goldilocks' disappearance and subsequent death and Somme World (experience WWI!)My favorite scene occurred when Mary went on a date with Detective Ashley, an alien with a skin like a jellyfish. On the date, they go to Ashley's parents house for dinner. Anyone who hopes to write humor should get this scene and use it as the gold standard. Laugh-out-loud lines in the scene:Ashley's Mom, Abigail, at the dinner table: "Mary, pass the toothpaste."Mary picked up what she thought was the condiment basket and passed it up the table.Abigail squeezed some Colgate on her chips.Overall, a delightful read.
    ben.wildeboer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Fforde's storytelling is much like DCI Spratt in this book: "more or less sane" while brilliant the entire time. Who else could tie together champion cucumbers, a 7 foot tall maniacal Gingerbread Man, a car dealer making deals with Mephistopheles, and anthropomorphic bears into novel that begs to be read in as few sittings as possible?
    Wova4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    In a similar fashion to Fforde's Thursday Next series, the second book in the Nursery Crime series is an improvement over the first. Fforde seems to be writing near the limit of daftness, daring the break narrative walls while sparing no expense setting up jokes and puns over several chapters. The most surprising part of my reading experience was that I grokked the key pseudo-science before it was revealed in the plot, despite being overly ridiculous and nonsensical. Maybe I too, am a Person of Dubious Reality.