Once Upon a Crime, Michael Buckley

Once Upon a Crime, Michael BuckleyOnce Upon a Crime by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

First Published: 2007
Pages: 272 (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #4

Rating:

For the first time since their parents were kidnapped, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm return to their hometown, New York City, to find Puck’s family. But the fairy-tale detectives get more than they bargained for in the Big Apple: wand-wielding fairy godfathers, swashbuckling Wall Street Pirates, subway-stealing dwarfs, and, worst of all, hidden among these urban Everafters, a murderer.

This isn’t the city Sabrina remembers, the place where she spent happy, normal days with her family. Even her memories of her parents aren’t safe. As the sisters Grimm investigate the death of an important Everafter, they learn that their mother kept a secret from them that might lead to the heart of that evil organization, the Scarlet Hand.

Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great little series and I have a lot of affection for it, but it’s the small things – the way fairy tale (and now literary) characters have been modernised, eg. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol becoming a medium – that I really enjoy. The mystery itself, as in previous books, remains predictable, something a bit of deductive reasoning and ‘who would benefit from this crime?’ sort of common sense would solve quite quickly – not helped by the cover kindof giving a big part of the game away as well. But whether you guess it or not, it’s a fun ride and there are lots of new characters, expanded world-building, and amusing cameos to enjoy. And a bit more light gets shed on the big mystery of Sabrina and Daphne’s parents disappearance and the sinister ‘Red Hand’.

The last book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger; Puck seriously injured and in danger of death with only his family beyond the magical barrier that protects the town able to heal him. So for the fourth book it’s roadtrip time! Leaving behind the familiar setting of the previous books and taking the action, temporarily, to New York and the secret court of Shakespeare’s fairies where Puck’s father, Oberon, rules a divided community of urban Everafters. But adventure always follows the Grimms, and barely have they arrived before Oberon is murdered and his body marked by the sign of the Red Hand and it’s up to the Sisters Grimm to find the killer. In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air and it works very well as a story by itself – new setting, new characters, the chance for a different sort of adventure – but it does distract slightly from the other ongoing storylines set up in the previous books and sometimes creates an odd change of tone. Uncle Jacob and Elvis only get mentioned once in the whole book, the storyline from the previous book of ‘magic as an addiction’  seems to have been abandoned, and the situation they left Ferryport in is almost forgotten. In fact with the addition of a fairytale community in New York I have to question the whole set up of Ferryport’s magical barrier.

The main point of this book, though, is as a turning point in Sabrina’s character arc with her coming ‘home’, learning more about her parents, and finally changing her anti-Everafter prejudices. That’s how the story is presented anyway  and I do hope it proves correct because she really was insufferable. I’ve tried to like her, I’ve tried to understand her and, though I’ve managed the later, the former has been almost impossible at times.  Whilst Daphne, Granny, and all the fairy-tale characters are loads of fun, Sabrina has been a grumpy funsponge for four books in a row now and it’s getting old. I get that life has hardened her, I get that she’s got trust issues but she is, in Daphne’s words, a ‘jerkazoid’ for most of the book. If I’m right this time though (I’ve had my fingers crossed ever since book one that she’ll be better in the next one) I will be delighted. One of my favourite things about this series is that it’s a children’s series, and an action adventure series at that, where both primary leads are female – so I really want to like them both! Us girls get relegated to ‘brainy friend’ or ‘boring love interest’ too often in these sort of books for me not to enjoy it when we get to be the flawed heroes ourselves! I just want Sabrina to be likable as well as flawed.

So fingers crossed for the next book! A less prejudiced Sabrina and a return to Ferryport. Looking forward to it.

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