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Once Upon a Crime (Sisters Grimm #4), by Michael Buckley

Updated on March 20, 2016

Before Reading

I remember there were fairies in this book. I can't remember if it indulges in the sorts of things that bother me in regards to most books about fairies (and which I'm still trying to suss out myself, frankly). I guess I'll find out.

After Reading

When we left the Grimm family, Mr. Canis was starting to lose his ability to hold the Big Bad Wolf at bay, and the Jabberwock(y) had torn Puck's wings off. Relda, Sabrina, Daphne, Mr. Canis, and Mr. Hamstead had cut a hole in the barrier around Ferryport Landing and were heading off to the land of Faerie so that Puck could be healed.

As "Once Upon a Crime" opens, somehow, Sabrina, brilliant Sabrina, doesn't recognize where they are going until she finally sees the New York City police car.

Now, I'm not all that familiar with New York City, since I've only spent three days there in my life (a number that is due to increase to ten in July). I did, however, grow up in Chicago, so let's assume that the area around New York City is similar in terms of urban sprawl and suburbia. At the age of nearly-12 (Sabrina turns 12 in the next book), I certainly would have noticed that we were approaching the city when we were, well, approaching the city. The suburbs go on for miles. I would have seen, for example, the quarries (if we were coming from the east in Interstate 80 -- big holes in the ground on either side of the highway are hard to miss). or a sign for Joliet (if we were coming in from the west in Interstate 80) or Waukegan, or Schaumburg, or Kankakee or whatever and thought, "Hey, we're approaching Chicago." I guess it's possible that there is a route from the Hudson Valley that leads to New York City and never reaches a major expressway or a "You are Now Entering (name of town)" sign or even a suburb, but looking at it at Google maps, it seems dubious to me. The whole area looks really built-up.

So, the Grimms are now in New York City. They've been told to tell Hans Christian Andersen a knock-knock joke, so they head to Central Park. It turns out that you don't need the actual joke; just saying the words "knock knock" is sufficient. Somehow, they each, one at a time, end up someplace else, like a transdimensional pocket or something of that nature. Sabrina is the last of their party to cross over into Faerie and she finds herself in front of a bar called the "Golden Egg." There is some kind of outdoors in Faerie, but this is all that we'll see of it. From now on, all of the action in Faerie takes place indoors.

The Golden Egg is the meeting place for all of the Everafters who live in New York City, and there are a lot of them. It turns out that a number of the Everafters left Ferryport Landing before the barrier went up, and many of them settled in the New York City area.

The fairies that we meet in Faerie have all had their previous adventures recorded in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- King Oberon, Queen Titania, Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Moth. Oberon had planned for Moth to marry Puck, but Puck ran away so that he wouldn't have to marry her. Oberon doesn't want to heal Puck's wounds, but Titania insists. We also find out that Mustardseed and Puck are Oberon and Titania's children, and Puck is Oberon's heir.

The night that the Grimms arrive in Faerie, Oberon is murdered. A red handprint is left on his body. This means that, rather than just leaving Puck to be healed, the Grimms have to stick around to solve the murder.

"Once Upon a Crime" avoids most of the twee "glass trees and solid-gold daffodils" type stuff that usually bothers me about fairy stories (admittedly, those may be part of the unseen outdoors). There is also, mercifully, very little Gaelic. We get treated to the term "liosta dubh," which is applied to Puck and seems, from my research, to basically correspond to the English term "blacklisted."

"Once Upon a Crime" has a lot of surprises, both in terms of the identities of the Everafters living in New York and also the identities of the humans who were working with them. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I will leave that right there. There are a number of chase scenes and fight scenes, as well, which are not (at least at this point in the series) Buckley's strongest suits. Those scenes are, from my perspective, largely to be tolerated, rather than enjoyed. We see Ms. Smirt again, as well, and Sabrina has decided that too many people she loves are getting hurt because of this whole fairy-tale detective thing and she wants out.

There are a number of references to how New Yorkers don't acknowledge crimes happening right in front of them, which traces back to the Kitty Genovese myth. The tragic story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is, of course, sadly true. The "myth" of which I speak is the "38 people were witnesses but no one did anything" part. Later researchers looked into the files and found that those nearly two score witnesses were actually the same 12 or so people interviewed over and over. And people did do things. One witness yelled at the assailant and drove him away, at which point, Genovese got up and walked around the corner, where, unfortunately, she was attacked again. Another witness called the police, but when she got up and walked away, assumed that indicated that she was all right and told the police that everything was okay after all. Attitudes toward conflicts between the sexes were different back in the 1960s, as well. A conflict between a man and a woman was often thought to be a "lovers' quarrel" and thus the business of no one but the participants, which certainly would have caused a number of people to refrain from interfering back then.

Overall, I like this book a lot. It is definitely one of my favorites in the series. It's usually pretty fun watching writers write about their hometowns (see also the treatment of New York City in Peter Lerangis's "Tomb of Shadows"). It's a little heavy on the chase scenes, but the character moments and the humor make up for it. We also get more hints of what is coming up in the future of the characters in the series.

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