The Fourth Bear (Jasper Fforde) - Viking - 2006 - 383 pages

This is the second volume (after The Big Over Easy) in Fforde's "Nursery Crime" series.  Detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are investigating the recent death of a local journalist and bear supporter (Goldilocks) who died at the "SommeWorld" theme park that provides guests with a realistic experience of trench warfare that occurred during WWI.  At the same time, a giant, psychotic gingerbreadman is on the loose and, Spratt is also trying to locate the mysterious car salesman (Dorian Gray) who sold him an Austin Allegro Equipe that repairs itself.  The investigation takes Jack and Mary to the home of the Bruin family that has been attacked by an unknown assailant who has been cultivating award-winning, nuclear cucumbers.  At the center of the action is a "giant fictional multination corporation" (QuangTech Industries) owned by the Quangle-Wangle who has not been seen in a dozen years.  Other characters include noisy neighbors (and marriage counselors) Punch & Judy, Virginia Kreeper, Hardy Fuchsia, Bisky-Batt and Constable Ashley who is an alien who mostly communicates in binary.  The story gets more complicated when Jack's wife (Madeline) discovers that he is a PDR ("Person of Dubious Reality").  And then Mary gets in trouble for flashing the occupants of the International Space Station during her first date with alien Ashley.  But author Fforde makes it all work with large doses of irony, an outstanding knowledge of literature, and a seemingly boundless sense of humor.  There is never a doubt that the ending will be a happy one.  And, there is no Chapter 13.  [JAM 5/16/2016]