P.J. Brackston,
Gretel & the Case of the Missing Frog Prints
(Pegasus, 2015)

This is a weird and wonderful book that is also very funny. A combination of historical fantasy, fairy tales (Bavaria 1776) and murder-mystery, it goes to many an unexpected place, and the anachronistic elements just add to the surreal fun.

Gretel (yes, THAT Gretel) is 35 and living with her brother Hans after they escaped the witch in their childhood. Hans has turned out to be a rather dim bulb, but he can cook well and this is important to them both. Gretel is the brains of the outfit, and indeed makes their living as Bavaria's most renowned private investigator, and so is the natural choice when Durer the Much Much Younger had Durer the Younger's delightful frog prints stolen from his rooms. Gretel is delighted at the prospect -- not only is price no object (money is dear to her heart as the breadwinner), but it also allows her to escape the delightful, quaint village in which she lives and revel in the elegance of the city. So she and Hans go to Nuremberg and visit an old school pal of Hans's -- the proverbial boy who cried wolf, also grown up.

And then things get weird.

I'm not going to go into more of the plot, because it's a great journey and I'd hate to spoil it! Gretel's fondnesses for elegance (especially in clothing and wigs), food (she is not a sylph), money and, not least, investigation all come into play, as does her propensity for disaster -- especially as it interacts with her relationship with a man she would very much like to know better. Nonetheless, this is not a romance; the romantic elements are more akin to a farce, and the rest comes first.

Add in talking philosopher mice, hobgoblins and the World's Biggest Weisswurst and -- well, you have to read it!

Gretel is an interesting protagonist: idiosyncratic, with some odd quirks, but engaging. The other characters are less rounded -- but this is written from Gretel's perspective (third person tight), so that works. I really liked her, and her longing for an elegance that usually escapes her due to circumstances.

This is technically the second book in the series, but the first won't be released until July 2015, and it is a fine place to start. There are some references to events in the previous book, but one can figure out the gist. This book mostly stands alone, though there is a teaser at the end for No. 3 -- which I very much hope gets written soon!

Very recommended, especially for Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde fans.

book review by
Amanda Fisher

14 February 2015

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