“‘There are at least three dead bodies in there.’“
Tess Harrow is a successful thriller writer. This means that her first glimpse of her grandfather’s old cabin is met with thoughts about where the dead bodies might be hidden – her mind just works like that, much to the dismay of her teenage daughter, Gertrude.
Over the course of the book, we find out the backstory that’s led the pair here, but in brief, a bad divorce, as well as the need for Tess to finish her new book. She thinks the peace and quiet of the wilderness is just the thing, with no wi-fi (or several other home comforts) to distract her. Again, hugely to the dismay of poor Gertrude!
However, things instantly don’t go to plan, as the pair’s arrival coincides with a loud explosion from behind the inherited property, and Tess being hit in the face with a dead body-part. A little much, even for a crime writer! She can’t help but try to solve the mystery of the corpse, not to mention all the other oddities around the rural town, be that slashed fertilizer bags in the local store, a missing cat, or library books stolen from the bookmobile. Could such trivialities help her solve a real murder?
I do like book-themed cosy mysteries, so it’s always fun to find a new series. I ended up quite liking this one, but not without some reservations. Tess is mostly a great character, and the set-up feels a little Castle-like. It’s convenient – and amusing – that the local sheriff is so like her novels’ lead character, but he wastes no time in telling her how wrong she gets real police work. However, I did find it a bit ‘hmm’ that Tess seems to need to pull all of her inspiration from the real events around her – how was she coping before she could ask the deputy what kind of pie she likes, and would it really have mattered to just, y’know, make it up?
She’s also very prone to jumping to huge conclusions about the real case, far more theatrical than realistic, which dampened my opinion of her. On the other hand, her personal woes and struggle to bond with a teenage daughter are all rather lovely, and there is something fun about the interactions with the bemused locals and her totally OTT theories.
The focus does stay on the crime, but with excellent use of the personal elements as background – great balance here. It’s a little on the grittier side than some ‘cosies’, but not too dark, so again a good balance from my point of view. And utter amazement: the teenager is great, not remotely annoying! 😉
Overall, this isn’t going to be one of my favourite cosy series, but it was a fun read and I’d happily pick up a sequel.
NetGalley eARC: 312 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 24th May 2022
Series: By the Book mysteries book 1
Read from 29th April – 2nd May 2022
My rating: 7/10