Tamara Berry’s Buried in a Good Book is the first volume in the new By the Book series. Like many series there are familiar elements to fans of the genre. With any such series it is the specific mix of elements and the flare of the author that brings the volume to life.
It features a set of quirky characters and a mystery author in a small town, but the resemblance to a much beloved Angela Lansbury series quickly breaks down beginning with the presence of the lead’s teen daughter.
The lead is one Tess Harrow, recently divorced and taking her daughter Gertrude to live in her grandfather’s old cabin. It lacks Wi-Fi, electricity, or even plumbing. This makes the teen girl naturally annoyed at the situation. When a local starts dynamite fishing and body parts fly out of the water that only makes matters worse. It is a good introduction to the setting and core mystery, however the complications continue.
Tess meets the local sheriff, a man named Boyd, who happens to be a physical dead-ringer for her fictional Detective Gonzales. As she has her initial reactions to the man and he to her, it is also not long before she finds him chasing down what he believes to be Bigfoot.
The characters get significantly more complicated as time goes on, and the increasing number of entertaining figures draw the reader in further. Indeed, while characters who are not what they appear is the hallmark of many good mysteries, Berry plays with expectations both by enforcing and subverting them, an impressive balancing act on the part of the author.
The mystery itself manages to twist and turn in suitable fashion. Elements introduced early continue to play a major role throughout, with oddities and coincidences small and believable in the way happenings for a small town might be. Everything from the local library to an ornery lady play a major role, and even figures that start out seeming quite distant play key roles.
There is a small self aware element in the book thanks to style. As Tess looks into the case she finds law enforcement mocking the liberties taken in her work, eager would-be authors pushing her for help, and the increasing difficulties of balancing her life with attempts at amateur investigation. Each of these feels loving and affectionate, yet nonetheless come across as friendly critiques of the genre.
As an opener for a series this book is excellent. The setup is made clear, a status quo made easy to understand, and a group of characters put in place with potential future interactions foreshadowed throughout this book. Indeed making it the first in a series has certain advantages. As the reader knows some characters would be likely returning, their reactions to new figures in the plot is quite changed.
Buried in a Good Book is a very nice beginning for a series. Tamara Berry includes a number of wonderful characters in the book, and it’s a story that grips the reader enough to look forward to the twists and turns that come.
(Poison Pen, 2022)