Ilke Jensen, a school photographer in Copenhagen, finds herself in over her head when she attempts to solve a murder in Sara Blaedel’s nail-biting new thriller, The Undertaker’s Daughter.
Without any warning, Ilke’s mundane life is turned upside down when she learns that her estranged father has passed away. In an uncharacteristic move for her, Ilke leaves Denmark behind and flies to Wisconsin, where her father lived, in order to find out more about the man who walked out on her when she was just a little girl.
It turns out that Ilke’s father left his struggling business, Golden Slumbers Funeral Home, to her instead of the family he’d had with another woman. Nearing total financial ruin, the funeral home is bleeding red ink, and Ilke has only a short window to decide if she wants to sell the place or stay and run it herself. She bonds with an elderly nun and a guy named Artie, whose primary job is to put bodies back together and make them presentable. Both seem to encourage her to keep the funeral home, which Ilke ultimately does.
Things start out okay, for the most part. Ilke doesn’t care much for her father’s wife or their daughters, but she’s determined to find out why her dad left all those years ago. Widowed and only forty years old, she sleeps around trying to release her frustration, before finally starting to settle into a new routine in a new town. She’s not overly likable early on, but as the story unfolds, Ilke grows into a complex, interesting character who really does want to see the business turn around. Little things start happening, though, like someone breaking into the funeral home and messing with bodies, that cause her to become suspicious.
Things continue to spiral, and Ilke eventually finds out that the small town of Racine, Wisconsin, is actually home to a deranged killer who is still on the loose.
Interestingly, the crime parts of this book take a backseat to Ilke Jensen’s personal issues and struggles. Rather than a detective novel, procedural, or straight-up crime book, the case itself is written almost in the background as a secondary plotline. The story is very character-driven, and a lot of time is spent developing Ilke and bringing along her backstory. . . before finally tying things up with an ending that feels a tad rushed.
Though it’s billed as a crime thriller, Sara Blaedel’s new novel is really more of a character study written over the backdrop of a murder investigation. The Undertaker’s Daughter is well-written, surprisingly layered, and definitely enjoyable. . . as long as you know what you’re walking into.
Author: Sara Blaedel
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.