Remember when you first learned that "fairy tales" weren't just for kids? And in fact, the originals were far more gruesome -- Cinderella's sister chopping off pieces of her foot in order to wedge herself into the glass slipper, and so on? Brackston takes this into a darkly funny and twisted form of growing up, by letting Gretel (yes, that Gretel) be the one who's become an adult: focused on food and clothes and social events, and supporting herself and her witless brother Hans by working as a private investigator ... in Bavaria, during a time when royalty and dukes mattered (say, the mid 1700s). Imagine a Germanic sort of fairy-tale land, much as the Brothers Grimm did. Now add the highly practical: Gretel's famous for her investigations already (although this is only the first book in the series), and when a case involving two missing prints by the artist Albrecht Dürer comes her way, finances demand that she accept. Besides, she'll get to travel to much more urban Nuremberg, where wigs are done properly.
I wasn't sure I could focus on this one -- but on the second page found this:
Gretel returned to deciphering the loopy lettering [in the client's letter]. The green ink appeared to have been applied by a man of shaky hand and feeble mind. Perfect client material, in Gretel's experience. In her many years as a private detective she had learned that it was preferable by far to be in the employ of simpletons and nincompoops, for they were easily pleased, easily strung along, and, crucially, easily parted from their money.Okay, that was my moment -- I knew I'd read the whole thing.
Of course, there's competition for the investigation, as well as trouble getting paid, clues that confuse, and, since this is after all the land of Gretel (yes, that Gretel) and Hansel, some side issues like talking rodents (very helpful!) and an unpleasant hobgoblin or two.
But rest assured, Gretel's efforts are true to the spirit of detectives in every era, as well as those of a fashionable woman with a reputation to uphold. There's a lot of fun here, and I'm sure since the next in the series involves a cruise (!!), there's plenty more entertainment ahead.
The author's website isn't great, but you can click here to see it. Also check here for some encouragement from Brackston on the writing process. The book is showing up on some "young adult" (YA) lists; if you know a teen who is already into sardonic European humor, it will be a good fit.