A grown-up Gretel and her wastrel brother, Hans, take to the seas in their third crime-solving adventure.
Not content with rescuing Hansel from the witch’s oven, Gretel’s supporting him and protecting him from fortune hunters. Not that Hans has any fortune to be hunted. He lives to eat, drink, and gamble, and it’s up to Gretel to pay the bills with her fees as a private eye. When Capt. Tobias Ziegler, proprietor of the Arabella, hires Gretel to find out why two of his crew have disappeared, she’s delighted to take the cruise, even if Hans tags along. True, the cramped, tarry Arabella isn’t the ship of her dreams, especially when she witnesses two of the crew behaving suspiciously in rough nighttime seas. The next day, the French-trained cook is missing. When he turns up, his throat slit, on another ship’s lifeboat, Gretel thinks she knows who the murderer is. Unfortunately, the only other witness isn’t exactly reliable: he’s a riddling water sprite with purple fur, and only Gretel can see him. Even though a beach expedition nearly marks Gretel for death by bathing machine, it doesn’t stop her from stealing a boat and making Hans help her row to a nearby island. There, she hopes to find the mermaid supposedly luring the Arabella’s crewmen to their deaths and spoiling every hope Ziegler, a pirate emeritus, has of achieving respectability by running pleasure cruises. Luckily, Hans has brought along a mer-hund more skilled in finding his quarry than Hans and Gretel, who can barely find land, let alone a mermaid. What they learn once they wash ashore greatly reduces their chances of making it back to the Arabella.
The no-nonsense heroine has grown quite the sarcastic tongue since the days of the breadcrumb trail, and the blend of fantasy and murder isn’t a perfect recipe. But credit Brackston (Once Upon a Crime, 2015, etc.) with imagination, if not consistency.