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The Fourth Bear.

Synopsis:

The Gingerbreadman: Psychopath, sadist, genius, convicted murderer and biscuit is loose in the streets of Reading. It isn't Jack Spratt's case. He and Mary Mary have been reassigned due to falling levels of nursery crime, and the NCD is once more in jeopardy. That is, until a chance encounter during the Armitage Shanks literary awards at the oddly familiar Deja-Vu Club lead Jack and Mary on the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta 'Goldilocks' Hatchett, star reporter for the Daily Mole. She had been about to break a story involving unexplained explosions in Herefordshire, Pasadena and the Nullabor Plain; The last witness to see her alive were The Three Bears, comfortably living out a life of rural solitude in Andersen's wood.

But all is not what it seems. How could the bear's porridge be at such disparate temperature when they were poured at the same time? Was Goldy's death in the nearby 1st World War Themepark of SommeWorld a freak accident? And is it merely chance that the Gingerbreadman pops up at awkward moments?

But there's more. What does a missing scientist with a terrifying discovery in subatomic physics, a secret weapon of devastating power, a reclusive industrialist known only as the Quangle-Wangle and Colonel Danvers of the National Security all have in common?

THE FOURTH BEAR

By

Jasper Fforde

The second book in the Nursery Crime series

Copyright © Jasper Fforde, 2006

“DCI Spratt of the Nursery Crime Division,” announced Jack, holding up his ID. “Put down the scissors and step away from the thumb.”

For my mother

Because the Forest will always be there… and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it.

—A. A. MILNE

1. A Death in Obscurity

Last known regional post-code allocation: Obscurity, Berkshire, Pop.: 35. Spotted by an eagle-eyed official and allocated in April 1987, the post-code allocation (RD73 93ZZ) was a matter of such import among the residents of this small village that a modest ceremony and street party were arranged. A bronze plaque was inscribed and affixed below another plaque that commemorated the only other event of note in living memory—the momentous occasion when Douglas Fairbanks Sr. became hopelessly lost in 1928 and had to stop at the village shop to ask for directions.

—The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, 2004 edition

The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Passed over for inclusion into almost every publication from The Domesday Book to Thirty Places Not Worth Visiting in Berkshire, the hamlet is also a cartographic omission, an honor it shares with the neighboring villages of Hiding and Cognito. Indeed, the status of Obscurity was once thought so tenuous that some of the more philosophically inclined residents considered the possibility that since the village didn’t exist, they might not exist either, and hurriedly placed “existential question of being” on the parish council agenda, where it still resides, after much unresolved discussion, between “church roof fund” and “any other business.”

It was late summer. A period of good weather had followed on from rain, and the countryside was now enjoying a reinvigoration of color and scent. The fields and trees were a vibrant green and the spinneys rich with the sweet bouquet of honeysuckle and dog rose, the hedgerows creamy with cow parsley and alive with cyclamen. In the isolated splendor of Obscurity, the residents enjoyed the season more as they had fewer people to share it with. Few people came this way, and if they did, they were invariably lost.

The Austin Somerset that pulled up outside a pretty brick-and-thatch cottage on the edge of the village was not lost. A dapper septuagenarian bounded from the front garden to greet the only occupant, an attractive woman of slender build in her late twenties.

“Welcome to Obscurity, Miss Hatchett,” he intoned politely.

“Were you lost for long?”

“Barely an hour,” she replied, shaking his outstretched hand.

“It’s very good of you to talk to me, Mr. Cripps.”

“The gravity of the situation is too serious to remain unremarked forever,” he replied somberly.

She nodded, and the sprightly pensioner invited her into the garden and guided her to a shady spot under an apple tree. She settled herself on the bench and tied up her long, blond, curly tresses. These were her most identifiable feature, one that in the past had made her the subject of a certain amount of teasing. But these days she didn’t much care.

“Call me Goldilocks,” she said with a smile, as she caught Stanley Cripps staring at her remarkably luxuriant hair. “Everyone else does.”

Cripps returned her smile and offered her a glass of lemonade.

“Then you must call me Stanley—I say, you’re not the Goldilocks, are you? We have so few celebrities down this way.”

“I’m afraid not,” she replied good-naturedly, having been asked this question many times before. “I think that Goldilocks was a lot younger.”

“Of course,” said Stanley, who was still staring at her hair, which seemed to glisten like gold when the dappled light caught it.

Goldilocks smiled again and opened her notepad.

“Firstly,” she said, taking a sip of lemonade, “I must remind you that I am an investigative reporter for The Toad, and anything you say may well be reported in the newspapers, and you must be aware of that.”

“Yes,” replied Stanley, staring at the ground for a moment, “I fully appreciate what you are saying. But this is serious stuff. Despite continued pleas to the police and evidence of numerous thefts, attempted murder and acts of wanton vandalism, we are just dismissed as lunatics on the fringes of society.”

“I agree it’s wrong,” murmured Goldilocks, “but until recently I never thought that… cucumber growing might be considered a dangerous pastime.”

“Few indeed think so,” replied Cripps soberly, “but cucumbering at the international level is seriously competitive and requires a huge commitment in cash and time. It’s a tough and highly rarefied activity in the horticultural community, and not for the fainthearted. The judges are merciless. Two years ago I thought I was in with a chance, but once again my archrival Hardy Fuchsia pipped me to the post with a graceful giant that tipped the scales at forty-six kilos—a full two hundred grams under my best offering. But, you know, in top-class cucumbering size isn’t everything. Fuchsia’s specimen won because of its curve. A delicately curved parabola of mathematical perfection that brought forth tears of admiration from even the harshest judge.”

     

 

2011 - 2018