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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gretel of Gesternstadt (Yes, that Gretel) in the Brothers Grimm Mysteries, P.J. Brackston

Once Upon a Crime: A Brothers Grimm Mystery            

Once upon a Crime and The Case of the Fickle Mermaid,
Brothers Grimm Mysteries, P.J. Brackston

Ever wonder what happened to Hansel and Gretel after they escaped the witch?  Well, actually me neither.  But if I had known she was going to become this delightfully witty maven of mysteries, I would have paid more attention.

I know there is a veritable glut of fairy tale fiction out there – retold, re-imagined, revamped and "de-sanitized" – but I can never resist giving the next one a look.  So when I saw an ARC on offer I had to jump.  Not only jump, but I also grabbed one at the library while I was waiting for the ARC request to be approved.  [Yeah, like that!]  Turns out the author, one P. J. (Paula) Brackston, also writes a more serious fantasy line of stand-alone novels involving
witches.  These look gorgeous, but I can’t say what they are like on the inside.  I did not even peek.  Nope.  I'm all about self-control.

As for the fairy tale revamp at hand, I grabbed the first (second?) book, Once upon a Crime: A Brothers Grimm Mystery, and I loved it from first glance.  I know we're not supposed to do it, but I started right off judging the book by its mysterious yet simple and humorous cover.  I haven’t read the second (or is it the first? the timing seems confused), but I did read the ARC of the third, The Case of the Fickle Mermaid, and I can’t believe I wouldn’t want to read any others Ms. Brackston decided to write. 

In briefGretel is …  no longer a child (alright, she's 35!), zaftig, a word I think she would approve, and she loves her comforts, working always to keep herself in the newest beauty treatments and best foods that can be shipped into her very provincial 18th-Century Bavarian home town of Gesternstadt.  Hans(el) is … much to Gretel’s dismay – except when he is cooking delicious meals for her – still living with Gretel and spending his time (and her money) on cards and ale.  As much as she despairs of the very “twee-ness” of Gesternstadt, Hans fits it like he fits his holiday lederhosen:  tight!

Gretel is the star of the show – natch! – and her salty attitude keeps it rolling.  From the opening of Once upon a Crime when she despairs of the very quaintness of her village, I knew she had the kind of crankiness I could really bond with.  The writing is definitely quick and lively, too, and there are numerous examples.  One that comes readily to mind is when Gretel and Hansel are faced with three villains.  After noting each of their defining and repulsive characteristics, Gretel begins to think of them as Pustule, Mold and Cat’s Tongue, in turn, and, altogether, as The Brothers Grime.  

The last [man] was short and wide, and seemed to wobble as he walked, as if it was only his filthy clothing that held him together, while he himself was made up of a material altogether unwholesome and decidedly unattractive.  Aged milk curds, perhaps. Or semolina.  With a thick crust of thick furry, green-blue mold. (p130)
“Did Hoffman send you?” Pustule demanded, pushing his sibling out of the way so that he might thrust his unlovely visage at Gretel. This was, she decided, an unfortunate technique for conducting a conversation, for close up his appearance was so distracting, it was difficult to remain engrossed in the subject being discussed. (p132-33)

After the witty language, I think what I like best about these books is that, despite the main character being a most famous fairy tale personage and involving a succession of fantastical creatures – troll, giant, mermaid, etc. – Ms. Brackston does not attempt to push the stories into some tortured form that involves every character you ever heard of in a fairy tale.  Ugh. Enough of that.

What makes it fun is that she allows her very strong-minded Gretel the run of the stage.  We know Gretel and we can identify with her:  She wants her comforts and she likes to keep fashionable, but she’s also getting the job done in the face of a lot of large and small obstacles – a bumbling brother, wigs overboard, random dead bodies – and she also struggles with the fact that the man she wouldn’t mind impressing (ahem!) always seems to see her at her worst.  I mean, who among us hasn’t shown up somewhere important with mismatched shoes or a soggy mer-hund at her heels?  Right?

I think these books can be properly termed “romps.”  They are a little rowdy, involve some solid mystery action, and I have laughed out loud more than a little.  Life with Gretel (yes, that Gretel) is no average fairy tale (thank goodness!), and it’s a great break from the ordinary to tear around Bavaria with her and have some fun.  

An excellent Feet-Up-I-Don't-Want-To-Work-Too-Hard-Amuse-Me evening read.  That's a thing, right?

Buy "Once Upon a Crime"

                          Buy "The Case of the Fickle Mermaid"                                          

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