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Literature / Nursery Crime

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The Big Over Easy, the first novel in the series.

Nursery Crime is a series of humorous fantasy / detective novels written by meta-fiction maverick Jasper Fforde. They are a loose spin-off of the same author's Thursday Next series: the world it's set in existed within an unpublishable Police Procedural novel that Thursday occupied in The Well of Lost Plots, wherein the characters worried they would be deleted. It was turned into a refuge for characters from Oral Tradition lacking a proper ink-and-paper home to call their own, and thus Nursery Crime was born.

The books themselves deal with the strange adventures of Police Detective Jack Spratt and his partner Sergeant Mary Mary, who live in an otherworldly version of Reading, England where characters from nursery rhymes are not only real and alive, but also enjoy celebrity status. But these fairy-tale folk are not the harmless innocents you always assumed them to be; their world is neck-high in murder, sex, deceit, and other shady dealings. Thus Jack, Mary, and their miscellany of comrades-in-arms at Reading's Nursery Crime Division are forever tasked with the cases other cops are too good (or too square) for: keeping some semblance of order in the world of fairy-tale creatures.

Not to mention the world's desire to ensure that detectives stay not merely efficient but also readable; after all, no matter how good you are, unless you drive a Cool Car and have a chief who drops you from the case every month, how can anyone be interested in reading about your adventures after the fact?

Think of it as Shrek meets the Police Procedural.

Not to be confused with the Genesis album Nursery Cryme.

The books in the trilogy are, in order:

  • The Big Over Easy
  • The Fourth Bear
  • The Last Great Tortoise Race (not yet released)

The Nursery Crime series provides examples of the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 
    The Series Overall 
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Reading is a haven for fictional characters and anthropomorphic animals, and all of Earth's alien visitors live there.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: The Rambosians originally learned about Earth by picking up television signals. Due to the speed-of-light delay, most of their initial interest in Earth revolved around British comedies of the 1970s.
  • The Alleged Car: Jack's cars. He chooses bland, poorly designed 70's British cars to differentiate himself from Chymes. His cars have a tendency to end up wrecked by the end of the book. In The Fourth Bear, he purchases a car designated "Feeblest British car of the seventies," which turns out to actually be this trope weaponized. The odometer runs backward, and once it reaches zero, the car explodes, killing the villain in the process. It even has a portrait inside that gets more and more damaged a la The Picture of Dorian Gray- who happens to be the guy who sold him the car.
  • All Myths Are True: Fairy tale characters coexist with Greek Gods.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: If you're paying attention in The Fourth Bear, you might notice that Jack's theories aren't any crazier than Chymes' were, yet Briggs doesn't believe him. Because Chymes turned out to be a fraud. Despite living in a world where nursery rhyme characters are demonstrably real, Briggs is unwilling to believe almost any theory remotely connected to them.
  • Author Appeal:
    • Fforde really seems to like his cars. If a car is mentioned, you can count on him giving the year, model, and even a brief manufacturing history.
    • Characters with double-letters in their names, likely due to the author's own last name.
  • Bad Liar: Due to his lack of familiarity with Earth culture, Ashley's lies are outlandish stories. One of his excuses (given in his capacity as a police officer) involves pirates, another involves the theft of elephants as an excuse to demand grocery store surveillance footage. Ashley claims that Rambosians are better liars since they have perfect memories, but it doesn't seem evident from his behavior. As the Rambosians originally came to Earth to complain about the cancellation of Fawlty Towers, it's likely that the issue is his reference pool for bad human lying.
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: Set in a world occupied by Genre Savvy fictional charcaters, and the series takes great delight in lampooning plot devices and detective tropes.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Rambosians are basically living water balloons, fluid-filled sacks who can swap bodies with a touch and store their memories in jars. Humans are considered equally bizarre by Rambosians. When Jack explains human reproduction to Ashley, Ashley is certain that Jack is having him on.
  • Blended Family Drama: The Genre Savvy Detectives' Guild expect and demands that detectives have dramatic, tragic home lives. As part of Jack's continued defiance of the tropes expected of him, he has a very harmonious family life. He's Happily Married to a woman with children from a previous marriage, who get along great with his own children.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Ashley. Understandable considering that he's an alien, and naturally doesn't understand all the complexities of human social interactions.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Jack makes an early reference to his happily married family life that's actually a joke for anyone who's read The Well Of Lost Plots and remembers the early drafts of "Caversham Heights".
    • Mary lives in a converted flying boat on the nearby lake, as she did when Thursday Next was playing her character in "Caversham Heights" (in The Well Of Lost Plots). One of her neighbours lives in an old submarine. In WoLP it was Captain Nemo, living away from the narrative on a book transfer. Here, she doesn't know how the submarine got there.
    • In The Big Over Easy, Mary pulls out in front of a convertible with the top down and a "distinctive color scheme".
    • Ashley's Uncle Colin fought in the Zhark Wars, which are the subject of Emperor Zhark's native book series. Zhark is a recurring character in the Thursday Next series.
  • The Coroner: Mrs. Singh, the department assistant pathologist who's the only one willing to work with the NCD. She collects evidence at crime scenes and provides scientific views on time of death etc., even for bizarre crimes such as the death of an anthropomorphic egg.
  • Cowboy Cop: Jack, particularly in the second book, where his unconventional gambits increase in frequency and he relies on several questionably-legal gambits to solve cases. Downplayed in The Big Over Easy, where Jack is a By-the-Book Cop compared to Chymes, who outright falsifies many of his cases. Throughout the series he relies on unusual allies and narrative intuition more than conventional police tactics.
    • Seems to be a deliberately Invoked Trope by Briggs (through his frequent suspensions) and many of the Detective's Guild members to make for better press.
  • Da Chief: Geoffrey Briggs, commissioner at the NCD. Duty bound to suspend Jack at least once an investigation.
  • Defective Detective: Invoked. One of the many tropes deliberately enforced by the Guild of Detectives, who demand that their members have broken marriages and drinking problems. In The Big Over Easy, Jack spins a web of lies about his dysfunctional personal life on his Guild application, and the investigator who shadows him is ultimately disappointed to learn that Jack is a happily married father of five.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Jack Spratt hates fat.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Mary's ex-boyfriend Arnold, who she dumped a total of 734 times, and who was awarded "Most Dumped Boyfriend" in a recordbook. Mary's schemes to avoid his phone calls are an ongoing gag.
  • Expy:
    • Jack, Mary, Lord Randolph Spongg, Lola Vavoom, and Prometheus, from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.
    • The Fourth Bear also features Dorian Gray as a used car dealer peddling appropriately macabre merchandise, and Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest as a pest in the Spratt household.
  • Fairy Tale Free-for-All: Nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters all exist in the same world.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The world is full of nursery characters and other fictional characters from a number of different traditions.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: The premise of the books is to essentially turn nursery stories and fairy tales into a Police Procedural. The basic plot of every nursery story covered (including the story of Humpty Dumpty, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Gingerbreadman) adheres to the original, but is given humorous treatment and new context due to the modern, Urban Fantasy setting.
  • Genre Blindness: The nursery characters often don't realize that they are PDR (Persons of Dubious Reality). It's heavily implied that several members of the Nursery Crime Division are nursery characters themselves and are unaware of it, although Jack does show some flashes of insight. In The Fourth Bear, it's revealed that Jack did know, but that he had actively forced himself to forget.
  • Genre Savvy: Pretty much everyone. Members of the Guild of Detectives are not only selected based on stereotypical "detective traits" (drinking problems, vintage cars, unsteady love affairs) but are also accompanied by sidekicks who write their friends' adventures, Watson-style, to appear in 1930s-style crime comics. The entire police department also seems to have learned their procedure entirely from 1970s American cop shows. In The Fourth Bear, the NCD officers discuss which plot devices to use in their investigations.
  • The Grays: The Rambosians are a group of aliens who are hairless humanoids with large heads and eyes, skinny bodies, and small anntenae. They look pretty much like most pop culture depictions of aliens, although their skin is blue and they have no idea who's behind all those abductions.
  • Happily Married: Jack and Madeline, much to the chagrin of Guild of Detectives, who expect a more dramatic love-life.
  • Hollywood Board Games:
    • Exaggerated in The Big Over Easy, Friedland Chymes deduces the culprit's identity based on one of the words he picked during a Scrabble game.
    • Ashley's alien race has binary as their native tongue. So, naturally, they play a binary version of Scrabble to show off their intelligence and vocabulary.
  • Houseboat Hero: Mary lives on a converted flying boat on a Lake, next to other fictional characters including Captain Nemo
  • Innocent Aliens: Ashley, and his parents.
  • Lead Police Detective: Jack Spratt is the head of the Nursery Crimes Division, and the lead on all the cases chronicled in the books.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Contains characters from all different fairy tales and nursery rhymes, as well as works of literature by Shakespeare and Edward Lear, among others.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Jack's daughter falls in love with (and later marries) Prometheus. Yes, that Prometheus.
    • Actually Averted, as Prometheus has decided to give up his immortality when Pandora gets to match his apparent age.
  • Memory Jar: The Rambosian aliens are filled with a fluid that keeps their memories. They keep jars of this fluid, and regularly back them up with newer memories. If they suffer some fatal misfortune, they can be patched up, refilled and returned to life.
  • Nursery Rhyme: Obviously.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Jack has a reputation for killing giants that he's at pains to deny. ("Technically, only one of them was a giant; the others were just tall.")
  • Physical God: Prometheus and the Jellyman.
  • The Plan: Guaranteed in anything Jasper Fforde writes.
  • Race Against the Clock: Happens several times, as fitting for any mystery/thriller:
    • In the first book, Jack has five minutes to defuse a sandwich-based bomb.
    • In The Fourth Bear, Jack initiates his own race against the clock, giving himself 12 hours to solve the case. 12 hours is the amount of time for the Secret Service to find out he helped Bartholemew, their Fall Guy escape capture. This is when the plot starts snowballing.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The members of the severely-underfunded NCD are all rejects from other divisions due to some combination of utter weirdness or a tendency to piss off their superiors, but they make a good team.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: In both books, a villain meets his downfall in a way that's not directly caused by Jack. As Jack says, "It's an NCD thing".
    • In The Big Over Easy, Dr. Quatt and the monster she created from Humpty Dumpty are running away, with a different squad of police in hot pursuit. Seized by an impulse, Jack cuts down the beanstalk, which just happens to fall exactly on top of them, crushing them to death.
    • In The Fourth Bear, The Big Bad Demetrios, after some Villainous Gloating about his many powerful friends, steals Jack's car to make his escape. Fortunately for Jack and unfortunately for him, Jack's car was cursed to kill its driver, and just as Demetrios drives away the curse comes into affect, and Demetrios is crushed to death in a horrible car accident.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At Castle Spongg, Lord Spongg mentions that the Norwegian Blue has "beautiful plumage". Among many, many more.
    • The bears live at the Bob Southey, named after Robert Southey, the Romantic poet who also happened to be one of the earliest people to write down Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • It's all about characters from nursery rhymes and mythology, crime-solving guided by knowledge of tropes and plot devices and the way nursery rhymes play out, set in the town of Reading, (even if it is pronounced "Redding".)
    • There's one involving several of the NCD officers. Neither Alan Butcher, Charlie Baker, nor Gretel Kandelstick-Maeker, have Punny Names on their own, but together they are the Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-maker, making these characters Nursery Characters and perhaps PDRs.
  • Tanks for the Memories: The Rambosians store backup memories in jars in their kitchen cabinets
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Very much in effect in regards to the nursery characters. However, Jack takes care to point out that things don't always play out exactly like in the stories. Nevertheless, he often exploits this to solve or prevent crimes.
  • They Walk Among Us: Fairy Tale characters, Greek gods, anthropomorphic bears...
  • Turn in Your Badge (and watch Columbo.) Happens to Jack quite a lot - he holds the record for "Most Suspended Police Officer (UK)" - as much for dramatic purposes as anything else.
  • Weird Trade Union: the Guild of Detectives, with an iron grip on the publication of crime write-ups. Membership can make or break a detective's career.
  • Writer on Board:
    • In The Big Over Easy Fforde's fears of Adaptation Decay shine through when an actress' career is destroyed after she appears in a terrible film based on The Eyre Affair.
    • The Fourth Bear also offers a scene where Jack and his wife attend a gala honoring the year's most prolific writers, and Jasper Fforde, author of wacky fantasies, really seems to have some fun portraying authors of serious drama as a bunch of shallow, self-obsessed, slow-witted snobs with no imagination.

     The Big Over Easy 
  • Affably Evil: Lord Spongg is extremely sympathetic and helpful to the investigators, but leads a bioterrorism plot, tries to kill Jack (twice!) and Humpty.
  • The Alcoholic: Humpty-Dumpty. Also defied with Jack, who is not one even though it is expected of him as a Detective (and would make for better press).
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: In a brief gag, Prometheus mentions that Asia couldn't pronounce her "r"s.
  • Bat Deduction: This is actually invoked by many detectives, as it makes for more interesting stories and adaptations. Jack is one of the few who actually prefers to, y'know, investigate crimes. Chymes is easily the most popular detective in Reading. In one of his press confrences he explains that he deduced from some custard on the victim's sock that he was trying to send a message to Chymes, the only person smart enough to figure it out. Custard in French is "creme anglaise", which is an anagram for one of the suspects. Unfortunately, anagram-based clues had recently been ruled inadmissable, so he had to DNA test the crumbs around the fatal gunshot wound, which turned out to be from a certain bakery chain, which they staked out and caught the suspect fingered earlier entering. She immediately confessed. Towards the end, we find that Friedland Chymes basically faked a case entirely; the person who confessed and got "jailed" was an actor. The implication is that most of his cases, were faked, as well as those of lots of other detectives, which means that there are plenty of murders running around scot-free.
  • Benevolent Boss: Lord Spongg's company is known for being a great place to work, offering a lifetime of benefits for workers.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Castle Spongg was inspired by German Expressionism and contains strange angles, sloping floors, rotating rooms, and rooms that are clones of each other. It's almost impossible to navigate.
  • Bomb Disposal: Jack has to defuse a bomb near the end, with an elaborate puzzle involving a two-way mirror, an identical twin butler, and a rapidly-curling sandwich.
  • Captain Ersatz: Friedland Chymes is an only-slightly-exaggerated Sherlock Holmes. He has an assistant called Flotsam, and a reputation for seeing straight through hugely complex cases based on a few minor details - in one instance, he identifies the murderer based on the word he played in a Scrabble game. However, it is mentioned elsewhere that Sherlock Holmes himself existed in this world. Also a subversion, as Chymes is eventually revealed to be the polar opposite of Sherlock Holmes—a corrupt, selfish, incompetent, opportunistic, backstabbing fraud, who regularly steals credit from other, worthier detectives and even fakes his own investigations for the sake of popularity.
  • The Casanova: Humpty-Dumpty, somehow. May be shades of Kavorka Man (he is a large egg, after all), but Humpty is recalled as a kind gentleman who was popular with the ladies for this.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Jack's mother repeatedly asks him when he's going to remove his three bags (full) of wool from her shed, which just fits into the mileu of jokes, puns and references to nursery rhymes until the bags cushion his fall from the beanstalk, saving his life.
  • Chest Burster: How Humpty ultimately died. Doctor Quatt had been secretly incubating a mutant experimental creature inside him, fittingly for an egg. When the creature hatched, an alien being burst of of Humpty's body, ending his life.
  • Climbing Climax: The climax of the book involves Jack frantically climbing the beanstalk in his mother's yard, while a deadly, giant lizard-monster created from Humpty attenpts to kill him.
  • Cranky Landlord: Mrs. Hubbard is a mean, miserly old woman who seems to regard her boarders as subhuman and constantly nags and judges them for bringing guests home or being sarcastic.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Mrs. Dumpty drowns herself in a vat of cookie dough.
  • Dirty Cop: Friedland Chymes, and maybe lots of other guild detectives as well. Chymes tampers with evidence and falsifies entire cases in order to sell books.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A number of characters in the book treat sarcasm as a disease akin to substance abuse. There's even a Sarcastics Anonymous 12-step group that exists to treat it.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Lord Randolph Spongg, the wealthy owner of Spongg footwear, who lives in a mansion expired by German Expressionism that is absurd and almost impossible to navigate.
  • External Combustion: How Lord Spongg intended to kill Humpty: he wired his car to blow up. Instead, Jack ends up on the receiving end of it.
  • Fun with Palindromes: Otto Tibbit (and his sister Hannah).
  • Gambit Pileup: Pretty much everyone was trying to kill Humpty Dumpty, either as part of a larger plan, or just out of revenge.
  • Horrible Housing: Humpty Dumpty is found dead near his home in Grimm's Row, where he lived in a dingy, tiny room in a boardinghouse run by the world's meanest landlady in a bad part of town. The police are shocked by this fall from grace, as he was once a well-respected local luminary who recently publicly claimed to have a whole lot of money. Prometheus also lives there, due to his poverty and political persecution that resulted from his long imprisonment by Zeus. It turns out that that room wasn't Humpty's actual apartment, just his office, but one of his other residencies was just as bad- a nearly-abandoned row of flats filled with mold and about to be demolished. The reason for these poor living conditions was that Humpty was involved in all sorts of illegal money-laundering and suspected people were out to kill him.
  • Inheritance Murder: Lola Vavoom secretly married Humpty in order to gain possession of his Spongg footcare shares, which would become valuable once Humpty's scheme came into fruition. She then plotted to kill Humpty together with Lord Spongg.
    "All to wife."
    —Humpy's Will
  • Karma Houdini: Solomon Grundy escapes to a country with no extradition treaty with the UK (rather unnecessarily, as Jack has no evidence to prove he did anything).
    • Bessie Brooks, Humpty's girlfriend who tried to poison him. The NCD briefly arrest her, but after it comes out that her murder attempt failed she gets released since the CPS tends to ignore NCD cases (other than murders) due to their poor conviction record.
    • Possibly Randolph Spongg and Lola Vavoom. Both of them are last seen fleeing in a light aircraft, the remains of which are later found in the English Channel, but they Never Found the Body and it remains unconfirmed whether or not they survived.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The Big Over Easy is an egg-related pun on The Big Easy.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: Nearly every suspect in the book actually tried to kill Humpty Dumpty, but didn't succeed. His ex-wife thought she shot him, but actually killed his friend, his mistress poisoned his coffee but he didn't drink it, Lord Spongg wired his car with a bomb but Humpty didn't drive it, and Solomon Grundy hired a hit man who shot Humpty when he was already dying. The real killer? Humpty's crazy doctor who used him to incubate a monster, killing Humpty (who is literally a large egg) when it hatched.
  • Lovable Rogue: Humpty Dumpty. Involved in money laundering and all sorts of illegal schemes, but does it all to fund causes he believes in.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Quatt, who despite being a psychologist spends all her time creating creepy Mix-and-Match Creatures by grafting, and has bizarre, grandiose plans involving the same.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The seemingly accidental and inevitable death of Humpty Dumpty leads to an investigation that reveals a vast conspiracy involving smuggled gold, stock fraud, mad science, multiple murders, and a massive bioterrorism plot.
  • Never Found the Body: Lord Spongg and Lola Vavoom. Subverted as whether or not they survived is never revealed.
  • Never Suicide: Jack initially thinks Humpty's death was a suicide, but then the forensics results reveal that he was shot, and it becomes a murder investigation.
  • Planet of Steves: The scientist at the foot institute claims that most people's names are too hard to remember, and nicknames everyone he meets Ronald and Nancy.
  • Serial Spouse: Lola Vavoom was married fifteen times. Actually, seventeen.
  • Take Our Word for It: The book never explains what the Sacred Gonga actually is. Instead, we get a scene where Jack and Mary get to view it that describes their awed reactions to various oddly-named components.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Lord Spongg's desire to revive his company is understandable given its upstanding role in the community and for the workers, but his plan involves several murders and infecting the entire city with verrucas.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The pugnacious, bull-necked 60-something Solomon Grundy is married to Rapunzel.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Lola Vavoom was formerly a big movie star, but she fell out of favor and is now a recluse. But this middle-aged woman is looking to make a comeback...
  • Working the Same Case: The NCD takes on the Humpty case and their Sacred Gonga protection deal at the same time. These are seemingly unrelated, but the Humpty case eventually reveals a plot against the Sacred Gonga, and the climax involves most of the Sacred Gonga protection team racing to protect The Jellyman from Humpty's killer.

     The Fourth Bear 
  • Anomalous Art: Jack buys a car from someone named Dorian Gray, which contains a portrait of the car in the back. In a nod to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the car is immune to damage, as anything happens to the picture instead, as Jack finds out after he wrecks his car a few times only to for it to repair itself. But once the odometer on the car reaches zero, the car destroys itself spectacularly, dragging the owner into hell.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Cold fusion from cucumbers.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Gingerbread Man. Yes, really.
  • Big Bad: All the murders that drive the plot of the book were directly or indirectly caused by Nick Demetrios, aka the Small Olympian Bear. He personally killed Goldilocks, attempted to kill the Bruins, ordered the creation and release of the mass-murderer the Gingerbreadman, and spearheaded the cuculear fusion project which killed countless other characters. Jack attempts to arrest him, but is unable to.
  • By-the-Book Cop: David Copperfield does everything by the book, including reading the book. He directs a crime scene investigation with a checklist, and is always frustrated by Jack's apparently wacky suggestions on how to catch the Gingerbreadman.
  • Call-Back: The Big Over Easy has a gag involving Otto Tibbit's father, who campaigned for spelling reform. He was unsuccessful except for his campaign to spell unspeakable "unsfzpxkable", which had "limited success." In The Fourth Bear, unspeakable is spelled "unsfzpxkable."
  • Coming Straight Story: In The Fourth Bear, Jack's investigations reveal that a prominently gay MP is into women.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Agent Parks. The community has a popular magazine.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Executives Biskey-Batt and the Small Olympian Bear, of Quang-Tech, are responsible for a secret conspiracy involving the creation of cold-fusion nuclear devices, the creation of an unstoppable killing machine gingerbread man, and countless murders.
  • Deal with the Devil: The secret behind Dorian Gray's cars involvings turning the owners' souls over to the devil, in exchange for his own immortality.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Defied. Jack realizes that MS 4, who were involved in Goldilocks' death, are trying to frame Bartholemew for the same and will probably kill him soon after. Jack pretends to take the bait by ordering his arrest, but secretly tips Bartholemew off, allowing him to go into hiding and escape death.
  • Dead All Along: the Quangle Wangle is referred to throughout the book, but near the end is revealed to have died a decade ago.
  • Didn't We Use This Joke Already?: Jack Spratt is given a piece of evidence, a manila envelope with "Important" written on the front, and quips, "This could be important." When he shows it to Mary, she makes the same quip, but Jack informs her that he already made that joke, and she apologizes.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Anthropomorphic bears have a... problem with porridge ("flake"). They get addicted to it rather quickly, and it is a controlled substance when they are involved in a transaction. They also have problems with honey ("buzz" or "sweet") and marmalade ("chunk", "shred" or "peel"). Jack says he personally sees no problem with it, and his arguments in defense of it sound fairly familiar.
    • An openly gay politician with a partner and an adopted son has a shocking secret: he's having an affair with a woman and his marriage is a sham for political reasons.
  • Fall Guy: Defied in The Fourth Bear by Jack with Bartholemew. Jack realizes that MS-4, who are involved with the murders he is investigating, is setting up Bartholemew as the Fall Guy and plays along by issuing a warrant of arrest in order buy time and to protect Bartholemew.
  • Fantastic Nuke: One of the mysteries driving the plot is the destruction of record-size cucumbers and their growers by what would appear to be nuclear explosions if not for the low level of radiation. It turns out that at a critical mass of 50kg cucumbers become cuclear bombs. The villain steals some for his plan to kill the protagonists and go into the energy/weapons business.
  • Fantastic Racism: "Ursism" is the discrimination against anthropomorphic talking bears.
  • The Ghost: Angus McGuffin in The Fourth Bear. He's often referred to, and supposedly talks to some of the characters, but never actually appears in a scene.
  • Hand Wave: Parks, a conspiracy theorist in "had latched onto Jack's outlandish explanation without too much difficulty, as should you."
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Ashley, who's an alien, and Mary go out on a date and have a lot of fun, but she notes that they're entirely incompatible on a physical level.
  • I'm Melting!: The demise of the Gingerbread Man. The deluge of the water from the fire sprinklers causes his body to absorb water and dissolve into goo.
  • Kill It with Water: How Jack, true to the fairy tale, defeats the Gingerbread Man, by turning on the sprinklers and melting his cookie body.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Elevated to epic art form, where inane gossip made throughout the book turns out much later to have been the set-up for an incredibly long punchline similar to the classic "Peter Piper picks a pepper" tongue-twister. The characters even break the fourth wall to complain about the pun. "Pippa Piper picked Peck over Pickle or Pepper? Which of the Peck pair did Pippa Piper pick?" "Peter 'Pockmarked' Peck of Palmer Park! He was the Peck that Pippa Piper picked!" "No, no! You've got it all wrong! Paul Peck is the Palmer Park Peck. Peter Peck is the pockmarked Peck from Pembroke Park. Pillocks! I'd placed a pound on Pippa Piper picking P.C. Percy Proctor from Pocklington." [pause] "It seems a very laborious setup for a very lame joke, doesn't it?" "Yes", said Mary, shaking her head sadly, "I really don't know how he gets away with it".
  • Literary Allusion Title: A pun based on The Third Man.
  • Living Weapon: The Gingerbread Man was engineered to be a killing machine.
  • Look Behind You: Subverted at the end: Bisky-Batt was right, the Small Olymbian Bear really was behind Jack- and armed!
  • Living MacGuffin: The aptly-named Angus McGuffin. Everyone's looking for him, he seems to be "involved" in all the plots of the story, but he never actually appears.
  • The Men in Black: The Men in Green, a gang of shadowy, possibly government-affiliated men who steal cucumbers and cover up evidence from suspicious explosions. The whole concept discussed in a chapter-opening blurb that details the "least mysterious" of such groups, including the Men in Blue (police) who congregate at areas of disturbance.
  • Motive Rant: Demetrios, the villain of the book, talks in extensive detail about the creation of the Gingerbread Man when Jack calls him out as the creator.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: When Mary attempts to speak binary with Ashley's family, she turns simple greetings into something Ashley's mother would never do or a statement about how her prawns have asthma.
  • Mythology Gag: Ashley's Uncle Colin's ramblings about the Zhark Wars are a reference to the Thursday Next novels, in which Emperor Zhark is a villain from a Book Within A Book sci-fi series who in his own books is bent on conquering the galaxy. The Nursery Crime series is something of a Spin-Off from the Thursday Next books.
  • Never Found the Body: The fact that Angus McGuffin's body was never found makes Jack immediately suspicious that he is alive despite other characters pointing out that the explosion levelled the entire building. Jack is right.
  • No Bisexuals: At one point a politician breaks down claiming he was 'living a lie' when it is revealed that although he was allegedly the first gay MP he is having an affair with a woman. Jack and Mary immediately assume that he is straight.
  • No Fourth Wall:
    • An inspector threatens to write a report about Jack's inadequacy as an NCD officer. He convinces her otherwise by pointing her out as an incidental character with whose only purpose in life is to be a problem for him to get around. She breaks down in existential despair until he promises to write a complete Backstory for her.
    • When the Vicar finds out that Cripps' last words were "it's full of holes", he speculates that maybe he was talking about plot holes, hurriedly pointing out that they were holes in his vegetable plot.
    • Characters frequently commenting on Fforde's use of language. Mary mentioning after a motorcycle drives away that "screeching tyre" doesn't look or sound right despite being perfectly correct.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Angus McGuffin managed to survive the complete destruction of his laboratory by an explosion that he set.
  • Not Enough to Bury: The killers obscure the details of Goldilocks's death by subjecting her to SommeWorld's simulated artillery barrage. The police find her in a lot of gruesome little pieces.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Ashley's Uncle Colin delivers a continuous stream of rambling reminiscences about the Zhark Wars which are ignored by his family. This continues in the background the entire time of Mary's visit to his house.
  • Relationship Reset Button: In The Fourth Bear, Mary and Ashley get one of these when he forgets to back up his memories of the last few weeks, and then makes a Heroic Sacrifice. As far as he knows, he never got up the courage to ask her out.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Punch and Judy move in next to Jack in The Fourth Bear. They're well known, in-universe, for domestically abusing each other, and arguing very, very loudly. Yet they do seem to actually love each other—very, very loudly. They're also fairly successful marriage counselors. They beat each other into the hospital, but as they point out, this is their mutually acceptable way of working out issues (and foreplay), and after hundreds of years of marriage, they are still in love with one another.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Rambosians, despite looking like The Greys, actually have incredibly Bizarre Alien Biology and Bizarre Alien Psychology.
  • Stepford Suburbia: The Fourth Bear opens in Cautionary Valley, a suburb where children are so all perfectly well behaved it's creepy. This is because in the valley, cautionary tales do come true, and so liars' pants catch on fire, etc. The children there are scared into obedience in a way that is remarked upon as deeply unnatural.
  • Talking Animal: The Fourth Bear features talking, anthropomorphic animals, most notably bears, who look like real bears but talk, wear human clothing, and live human-like lifestyles in apartment buildings.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Being forced to confront your fictional status can be very traumatic, especially if you don't have a lot of characterization.
  • Threshold Guardians: Discussed. Jack realizes that Virginia Kreeper is merely a narrative obstacle to overcome to continue on in his journey as a hero; this breaks her when he points it out.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: In "The Fourth Bear," Jack is required to meet with a therapist named Virginia Kreeper. He Lampshades this and gives her an existential crisis by calling her a Threshold Guardian. See No Fourth Wall above.
  • Working the Same Case: Jack gets taken off the Gingerbreadman escape case and has to work on the murder of Goldilocks instead. The Gingerbreadman keeps showing up at sites Jack's investigating anyway, causing Jack to be reprimanded repeatedly for secretly trying to work on the case. It turns out that the man who created and released the Gingerbreadman also killed Goldilocks.
  • World War I: The theme park Sommeworld in The Fourth Bear. Construction should be finished by Christmas. No, really.
  • Van in Black: Used in The Fourth Bear by the Men in Green to transport cucumbers, among other things.

Alternative Title(s): The Fourth Bear, The Big Over Easy