The Gingerbreadman - psychopath, sadist, genius, convicted murderer and biscuit - is loose in the streets of Reading.
It isn't Jack Spratt's case. Despite the success of the Humpty Dumpty investigation, the well publicised failure to prevent Red Riding Hood and her Gran 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 them onto 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, comfortably living out a life of rural solitude in Anderson'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 are National Security involved?
But most important of all: how could the bears' porridge be at such disparate temperatures when they were poured at the same time?
It is probably fair to say that I am a bit of a Jasper Fforde fangirl. I started reading the Thursday Next series of books a couple of years ago, and then had to wait patiently for his next book (The Big Over Easy) to come out, and then more patiently for this one! I do have to say though that I was actually a bit disappointed by The Big Over Easy, maybe just because it wasn't a Thursday Next book! Thankfully, Fforde has another winner on his hands with this book, and now I have to wait even more impatiently for the next two books - one to be published next year called War of the Words is another Thursday Next book, and the next Nursery Crime book after that!
I actually finished this a couple of weeks ago, so please forgive me if the details are a bit thin on the ground. Actually, they may have been that way anyway given that there was so much going on in this novel - Jack and his wife having issues because she doesn't seem to be aware that he is a Nursery Rhyme character, exploding cucumbers, a psychopathic killer Gingerbreadman on the loose (is he a cake or a biscuit?), a missing investigative reporter by the name of Goldie, Jack getting suspended from work, porridge as a restricted foodstuff and an out of this world experience for one of the characters amongst other things! Fforde manages to include these and many other ideas that range from just plain silly to laugh out loud funny, and yet the story still works as a mystery, with red herrings a plenty, clashes with authority and a terrific finale.
The characters of Jack and Mary Mary are much better defined in this novel, as are many of the other characters including the other members of the Nursery Crime Division, especially Ashley. The scene where Mary Mary meets his parents is very, very funny.
A fair indication of Fforde's humour can be gauged from the opening paragraph in the book:
The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Passed over for inclusion in almost every publication from the Domesday Book to Thirty Places Not Worth Visiting in Berkshire, the small hamlet is also a cartographic omission, an honour it shares with the neighbouring village 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 exit then 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'.
I just wish that Fforde could get all his crazy ideas on paper and have those new books out a bit quicker!! In the meantime there are always lots of fun things on his websites (www.nurserycrimes.co.uk for the Nursery Crime books and www.jasperfforde.com for lots of things related to both series!)