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 Toad. She had been about to break a story involving unexplained explosions in Herefordshire, Pasadena and the Nullabor Plain; The last witnesses 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 temperatures 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?
Like The Big Over Easy (2005), Fforde's first Nursery Crime novel, this sequel offers literary allusions, confusions and gentle satire, though, again like its predecessor, it lacks the snap of the author's Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair, etc.). Jack Spratt, DCI of the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Police Department, is also a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), as are most of the characters Jack deals with, including the Gingerbreadman, a notorious killer, and Punch and Judy, a violence prone couple who are also marriage counselors. An alien policeman named Ashley, talking bears, a devoted group of cucumber-growing enthusiasts and an immensely powerful company, Quang Tech, add spice. All are grist for Fforde, whose word play runs the gamut from puns to shaggy dog stories. The Gingerbreadman's on the loose, Goldilocks is missing and Jack's once again persona non grata at headquarters. As Jack and his associates "bring justice to the nursery world," they also cast a Swiftian eye on corporate hubris, race relations, the drug trade and myriad other targets.