by Kay Kendall
Nestled among wooded hills south of Nashville, Tennessee, is one of only three bookstores devoted to mysteries in the southern US. Mysteries & More is also the newest, established March 2008 as the combined fulfillment of a lifelong dream plus retirement plan of owners Mary and Greg Bruss.
Mary Bruss is a voracious reader. She recalls her excitement years ago when she discovered the protagonist in Carolyn Hart’s mystery Death on Demand. “The character had inherited her uncle’s store and it held nothing but mysteries. I thought that would be fun to do one day,” Mary says.
Greg Bruss devoted almost four decades of his life working for the phone company in several southern states. When he decided to retire, he craved a change. “Mary had quit her nursing career to raise two children, but later also worked for five years with Barnes and Noble learning the book business. I wanted her to live her dream of running her own bookstore.”
The Brusses found the ideal spot for their new venture in Lenox Village, a planned New Urbanist community that preserves wildlife habitat and natural features and mimics the traditional values of a small Tennessee town. When the couple visited for the first time, they put down a deposit on a building immediately.
“Now we live above the store and that’s part of the charm of our new life,” Greg says. “That’s what I remember from childhood. Local moms and pops lived above their buildings. That’s what we wanted to do here.”
Lenox Village is designed as a mixed-use community that minimizes the need for vehicles and offers live/work, office and retail space in its village core. Mysteries & More is located there in a two-story building with a deep front porch. On the first floor the 1,300-square-foot store holds 23,000 mystery books. Mary says with a smile, “Yes, we’re surrounded by murder and mayhem.” Their marketing tag line is “books to die for.”
The Brusses and their bookstore quickly settled into their friendly new community. They keep bowls of water and treats on the porch for dogs that arrive with their owners. On the Fourth of July the couple hands out free hotdogs and has games for everyone to play. They hold book signing events for local and visiting authors, and the fourth Tuesday of each month finds them hosting a book club. “Walk in the door and you can become a member,” they say.
“If I could design the perfect small bookstore, this would be it. It’s warm and welcoming, well organized and inviting. Greg and Mary are the perfect hosts for the book lover’s utopia they created.” This is the expert opinion of Sara J. Henry, Anthony- and Agatha-award winning author of Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lovely Place. “Mary definitely knows her stuff. She’s pointed me to authors I’d never heard of.” Sara is a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who now calls Vermont home, but often visits Nashville and her favorite mystery bookstore.
Much of the stock at Mysteries & More is used books, yet they do not appear to be used. Mary carefully washes down each cover, unfolds each dog-eared page and erases pencil marks. “My criteria was to have our store be clean and not smelly, not musty, and the books would be organized alphabetically. The entry and aisles are wheelchair-accessible, too.”
Greg is proud of the fact that his wife can find a book on any subject. She’s delighted when a customer returns to get another book by an author she has recommended already. “We hand-sell books and our customers appreciate that,” she says.
Shamus nominee Jaden Terrell is the author of a mystery series featuring Nashville private detective Jared McKean. She says, “From the time they opened the doors of Mysteries & More, Greg and Mary Bruss have been faithful supporters of mystery writers and the genre as a whole. In addition to creating a store with a cozy, inviting atmosphere, they have become true friends. I’ll never forget the first book launch I attended there, with the author’s latest cover beautifully depicted on the cake. Everything they do is a class act.” Jaden is the executive director of the annual writers’ conference Killer Nashville and visits Greg and Mary at Mysteries & More as often as she can.
The bookstore may have derived from Mary’s imagination, but Greg takes part fully. He has become the treasurer of the national Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. He even fitted out the store’s office by building shelves up every wall and under the stairs.
After forty-plus years of married life, Greg and Mary are content in their new existence, even when days are slow at their store. “We just have more time to read,” he says.
Greg adds, “Always buy books. And if you have any money left over, then buy food.”
Check out past mystery bookstore profiles, other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.