REVIEW: Buried in a Bog

Buried in a Bog by Sheila Connolly
Berkley Prime Crime (304 pages)
February 5, 2013

Rating:  8 (Good!)

For fans of:  Nancy Atherton

When Maura Donovan agrees to grant her grandmother Nora's dying wish and travel to Ireland to visit the village of Leap (where Nora was born), she doesn't think she's signing on for anything that'll take longer than a week. She figures she'll seek out some of her grandmother's old friends, see the sights, and come home again.

Life never works out quite as one plans, though, and before she knows it, Maura's befriending the locals and lending a hand down at the village pub. It's only for a few months, she tells herself – just until the pub's managers can figure some things out, and until Maura decides what she wants to do with her life now that there's nothing keeping her in Boston. But when a body's pulled out of the bog, another villager turns up dead, and Maura starts receiving threats, she's forced to wonder if she's destined to become a permanent resident of Leap – with an address in the local cemetery.

Buried in a Bog is the first of Sheila Connolly’s new County Cork Mysteries, and if the quality of this book is any indication, Berkley has another winner of a series on their hands. Connolly’s latest is a captivating tale – sweet, nostalgic, and full of Irish charm, but also tightly plotted and full of twists, turns, and shocking reveals. There's a strong sense of place; Connolly's lush and vivid descriptions virtually transport the reader to the Irish countryside. And the book reads almost like a love letter to Irish history, culture, and genealogy; Buried in a Bog is as much a mystery as it a story of self-discovery and rebirth – of uncovering one’s history, and in doing so, stumbling across one’s path to the future.

Connolly’s characters are likable and well drawn, but I must admit to mixed feelings regarding Maura as a heroine. On the one hand, you can’t help but feel sorry for her; her father’s dead, her mother abandoned her, and the grandmother who raised her just died of cancer, essentially leaving her both homeless and penniless. And you have to admire her sense of adventure, what with her spur-of-the-moment decision to (at least temporarily) relocate to Ireland and to try and make a go of it. But neither of these things quite makes up for the fact that Maura’s about as judgmental as they come – especially considering her young age, her relatively poor upbringing, and her current station in life. Her critical nature makes it difficult to truly like her, no matter how much you may want to do so, and that’s probably my biggest knock about this book.  She does mellow a bit over the course of this first installment in her tale, and I have a feeling she’ll continue to do so as she acclimates to her new life and the people in it, but for this book, at least, Maura comes off more like a cranky, bitter old lady than she does a young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

That said, Connolly absolutely nails the book’s ending, tying up all the story's loose ends and rather nicely setting up the rest of the series. Sheila Connolly’s County Cork Mysteries have a ton of promise, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where Connolly chooses to take her readers next.