When Gretel—yes, that Gretel, now all grown up and working as a private investigator—takes on the case of a missing sorcerer, she doesn't realize that it will take her into the heart of the deep, dark woods, and face to face with an old enemy . . .
Gretel has never had any time for sorcerers, considering them nothing more than show-offs with questionable fashion sense. It is with some reluctance and a deal of grumpiness, then, that she agrees to look into the matter of a murdered magician. All that is left of him is a grisly remnant, which the police quack confirms is the murdered man’s appendix. What has become of the rest of him is baffling the local constabulary, the Sorcerers’ Society, and, not least, the hapless trickster’s widow.
As Gretel delves into the facts behind his disappearance, she discovers no shortage of suspects. In fact, just about everyone she meets had reason for wanting the odious man dead. Her only clue points in one disturbing direction: the deep dark forest. So it is that Gretel, with a reluctant Hans as porter, must trek into the woods of her childhood trauma, braving all manner of discomforts and dangers— not least of which is a terrifying reminder of her past.
Bestseller Brackston's comic mystery series set in a Grimm fairy tales version of 18th-century Bavaria hits its stride with this often hilarious fourth entry (after 2016's The Case of the Fickle Mermaid). In this imagined world, Gretel works as an investigator for hire, though her insights aren't always profound; she tells a prospective client, Evalina Arnold, that "it is facts that will solve this case, as they have solved many others." Evalina's sorcerer husband, Ernst, has died, but she has been unable to collect on his insurance policy. The only trace of him is his appendix, which Evalina found in his workshop, but which the insurers insist only shows that one of his tricks went wrong. Gretel interviews a number of Ernst's disappointed clients in an effort to identify who may have wanted to kill him. The wry humor is a delight (a wolf threatening Gretel "had evidently never been attacked by a fierce Bavarian detective with a flaming Bavarian hat and had not a notion of how to defend itself").