The Sisters Grimm Series by Michael Buckley follows the adventures of Sabrina (age 11) and Daphne (age 7) Grimm, descendants of the Brothers Grimm as they investigate magical crimes with their Grandmother, Granny Relda, and her faithful companion Mr. Canis, also known as the Big Bad Wolf. Once Upon A Crime is the fourth book of nine in the series.
Once Upon A Crime suffers from being in the dead middle of the series. The book is woefully short on exposition. In fact, to understand what is happening and who the characters are the reader will be required to at least have read The Problem Child, Book Three in the series. And is well advised to have read the first two books as well; The Fairy Tale Detectives (Book one) and The Unusual Suspects (Book two).
At the start of the book, Puck, a 4,000 year old Prince of Fairy, who lives life as a 12-year-old boy and has a crush on Sabrina, has been badly hurt (the writer does not share how he was injured). The Grimm Sisters, Granny Relda and Mr. Canis must take him to New York City, where the land of Fairy intersects the mundane world, to be healed by his father, King Oberon. After arriving in the Big Apple, the foursome find out that King Oberon has been murdered and are asked to solve the crime.
Buckley plays his usual games by introducing classical literary characters to the story, usually with a twist. In this book the sisters meet an alternate Tiny Tim and Scrooge, also literal pirates from Wall Street, magic wielding crime bosses and dwarves that live in the subway system. The introduction of these characters and the human girls’ interactions with them are the best parts of the book.
Clearly written to appeal to pre-adolescent girls, the novel is clean and the prose concise. One place where the book falls down is the fact that it does not advance the main story arc as all, making it essential a pause in the series main story. The other big fault of this book and in fact the rest of the series is that Sabrina Grimm is an incredibly annoying literary creation, constantly whining and complaining. Puck is little better, while clearly an attempt at some comic relief, he too is mostly irritating. This is a terrible fault for two of the three main characters of any novel.
To sum up, if you enjoyed the rest of the Sisters Grimm series Once Upon A Crime is a must read. But otherwise this book has little to recommend it.