The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Undertaker's DaughterThe Undertaker’s Daughter introduces Ilka Jensen, a middle aged protagonist who has struggled with the loss of her father for most of her life. When she was seven, her father up and left moving to Racine, Wisconsin, never to be heard from again. That is never heard from again until now. Word comes that her father has died and named Ilka in his will. His estate cannot be settled until she signs off on the will Rather than leaving this to her attorney to handle for her, she decides to travel to Wisconsin and handle it herself. Of course things turn out to be more complicated than she expected. She finds her father has left everything to his current wife and two American daughters except his business, a failing funeral home. While I generally liked Ilka and found the book interesting, it was quite a bit different than I would expect from a Scandinavian crime author.

The first thing that struck me a bit out of the ordinary, was except for the very beginning of the book, when readers meet Ilka and her mother in Copenhagen, the entire book takes place in Wisconsin. I suppose there are other Scandinavian writers who set an occasional in America, but I found this an interesting way to start what appears to be a series.

Another puzzling point is that the book is barely crime fiction. While there is a long ago crime that is finally solved, it is really in the background. Ilka doesn’t investigate this crime or really get involved in the investigation in anyway. One of her “clients” is tied to the original crime, and some of the current day fallout from that crime takes place in her funeral home, but it is only one of the various story lines generated by her clients. Ilka is the protagonist of The Undertaker’s Daughter only because she owns the funeral home, not because of the crime. It will be interesting to see where future books in the series go with this.

Ilka is an interesting character. She travels to America, not because she needs to for legal reasons so much as for her to finally have closure on her father’s departure. Only in the end she doesn’t really get that closure. He had a wife and two daughters whom she meets but it becomes clear that there is a bit of a mystery in her father’s relationship with them as well. Plus, they make it quite apparent that they want nothing to do with Ilka. In many ways she could be the protagonist in many “cozy” mysteries except out of the blue Ilka decides she needs sex and goes looking for it. It seems too that the sex is more of a physical need rather than the need for closeness. Other things in her behavior is also abrupt and just seems a bit off.

Readers don’t get much from the other characters. There is a nun who is the office manager whose behavior is mostly odd. She’s friendly towards Ilka and then she’s not. She helps her sometimes but throws her to the wolves at other times. Where she came from and why is she there is never explained.

One thing that I liked was the actual business of staging a funeral. There were some laugh out loud moments as Ilka met with clients. Readers learn a great deal about how bodies are prepared for a burial or to be cremated. I suspect that some readers will flip right through those pages, but I was fascinated by the information.

From the ending, it is clear that there is to be at least one more book. I look forward to reading it, but if it too ends with a semi cliffhanger then I’m done. Blaedel needs to play fair with readers and wrap up the loose ends, not dangle a new one on the final page.

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