Book Review: “The Problem Child” by Michael Buckley

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The Problem Child
by Michael Buckley

When Wilhelm Grimm emigrated to upstate New York with a shipload of Everafters – the real, live characters from his histories-cum-fairy tales – not everyone made a smooth transition. A few, in fact, became dangerously disturbed. In this third installment in The Sisters Grimm, these fiendishly insane Everafters break loose and begin terrorizing the population of Ferryport Landing.

This outbreak of trouble just happens to coincide with the return of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm’s Uncle Jake, a man whose very existence has been erased from the memories of most people in town. Why? Because his rash arrogance led to the escape of the very bad-guys who have now wreaking havoc again – to say nothing of Grandpa Grimm’s death.

The villains in this case are somehow involved with the Scarlet Hand, the shadowy group of anti-Grimm Everafters who kidnapped the girls’ parents. So they are doubly motivated, as fairy-tale detectives, to get to the bottom of this case. Solving it may help them find their parents.

Once again, the bad guys aren’t the only problem Sabrina and her family have to contend with. Uncle Jake has to work through his guilt to feel worthy of his mother’s forgiveness. Both he and Sabrina struggle with an addiction to magical objects – being “touched,” as Baba Yaga calls it. And what happens to Puck leads directly to another family crisis, and the succeeding adventure titled Once Upon a Crime.

What makes this series of fairy-tale mysteries work so well? Perhaps it is the author’s precise sense of balance. Somehow he keeps brewing these rich concoctions, with chilling mystery, family drama, rib-tickling spoof and eye-popping magic all at their proper strength. If it was any more serious, it wouldn’t be so much fun for kids of all ages. If it was any less, it wouldn’t make you care so much about its characters – even the off-center ones. Buckley writes with wit and compassion, but above all he spins a yarn in which one can easily get caught up.