The Unusual Suspects
by Michael Buckley
First, before I discuss this second book in The Sisters Grimm series, I want to
defend myself against any possibility of being charged with plagiarism. My Magic
Quill column has a chapter, originally posted in March 2007, titled "The Unusual
Suspects." I didn't get the idea for that title from this book, which was published
at about that time and which I only got around to reading at the tail-end of 2008. I
suspect that this book, along with several similarly-titled books and stories by
various authors, took its name by a twist on "the usual suspects," phrase first
popularized by Claude Rains' character in Casablanca. That's certainly what I was
thinking in March '07. Great minds think alike. Lots of them, evidently.
As for author Buckley, any charge of plagiarism would be futile. He has stolen his
characters from a wide range of folklore and fantasy classics, from the fairy tales
of Grimm and Andersen to the works of Baum and Carroll. He has cast his net so
widely that one could accuse him of nothing worse than what Clive James said of J.
K. Rowling: "ransacking a sorcerers' warehouse stocked with all the magic gear since
Grimm's first fairy tales."
Most of that gear seems to be stored behind the magic mirror that lives in Granny
Relda's spare bedroom. Also living under her roof are the last descendants of Jacob
and Wilhelm Grimm, Sabrina (11) and Daphne (7), who are both trying in their own way
to adjust to their new living situation; and let's not forget Puck, an
eternally-boyish fairy prince with an impish sense of humor and, when he chooses to
reveal them, a pair of huge pink insect wings.
When Sabrina and Puck lock horns, you can often spot the spectre of puberty hovering
nearby: some of it has to do with being at the age when girls and boys start to pay
attention to each other. Which makes for a nice distraction, now and then, from the
grim urgency of the case they are working on. As fairy-tale detectives, it's up to
the Grimm family to police the Everafter population of Ferryport Landing, New York.
And it's never needed more policing than now, what with a teacher at the local
elementary school being eaten by a monster. Somehow this is connected with the way
all the kids keep falling asleep in school, the discovery that several Everafter
couples sold their babies, and the principal's peculiar power to control people and
animals -- he is the Pied Piper of Hamelin, after all.
Throw in appearances by seemingly every fairy-tale character from Baba Yaga to Snow
White - don't worry; I haven't mentioned the one that really matters - and you've
got a comedy crossed with a mystery, seasoned with a dash of horror, a pinch of
romance, and a generous dollop of subversive irony. I mean, who is ever going to see
fairy tales the same way after seeing a pig (a literal pig) in a sheriff's uniform,
a charging swarm of carnivorous rabbits, and a shrewish social worker making
cow-eyes at a school guidance counselor? If you find these images provocative, you
will find more and more of them as the series continues.
Besides the big case, this story also finds our main heroine dealing with a more
personal problem. Since her parents disappeared, Sabrina has compensated for her
harsh circumstances by developing a habit of distrust. Now that her world has been
turned upside down, now that she knows fairy tales are real and that her parents
were involved in them, now that she knows Everafters are behind her parents'
disappearance, and many more despise the Grimm family - well, can you guess where
this is going? Sabrina begins to have a little problem spelled H-A-T-E. And dealing
with that problem raises this story from frivolous entertainment to the level of
well-rounded, human storytelling a child can learn from and love.
Recommended Age: 10+
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