The Fairy Tale Detectives (2005) is the first book in The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. The series begins with a compelling premise: The stories of the brothers Grimm and other fairy tale originators (Hans Christian Andersen, etc.) are all true. In a Tolkien-style spin, fairy tale creatures (called “Everafters”) used to coexist with humans, but in recent years they have been exiled to a small town near the suburbs of NYC. The Grimm family is still around, monitoring the Everafters and suspicious crimes in the area as part of a pact binding the Everafters to the town for, well, quite a long time.
Unfortunately, this premise offers little compensation for having to deal with Sabrina Grimm during the first half of the novel. Recently orphaned under odd circumstances, Sabrina (age 11) and her younger sister, Daphne, are sent to their mysterious grandmother whom the girls were told had died years ago. This all occurs in the first chapter. From there to the halfway point, readers are privy to Sabrina’s numerous railings against Granny Grimm proclaiming her as a fraud or a lunatic. Often at the same time.
After the halfway point, when the author finally lets Sabrina be an effective character instead of her previous killjoy self, the story picks up. Sabrina also becomes tolerable to read about. At times Buckley seems to forget that he is writing a children’s novel–perhaps hoping to imitate Jasper Fforde’s more effective integration of fictional-characters-as-real-people in his popular Thursday Next novels. This creates scenes that seem incongruously gory, some characters even seeming vicious. These scenes are especially jarring when, at other points, Buckley seems to be at pains to avoid writing about violence (particularly with the circumstances of the girls’ being orphaned). Buckley seems uncertain of his audience and his own style–which changes throughout the narrative alternating between fractured fairy tale and Goosebumps styles to ill effect.